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San Diego State vs. UNLV Football Prediction and Preview

Greg Bell, San Diego State Aztecs Football

Greg Bell and the Aztecs head to Las Vegas looking to take another step towards a Mountain West division title when they take on the Rebels on Friday night

After moving up in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings, San Diego State will look to avoid a letdown in Las Vegas against UNLV on Friday night. The 19th-ranked Aztecs (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West) are coming off of a big win over division rival Nevada and have a critical game looming against Boise State on Black Friday.

SDSU is now a half-game up in the West Division on Fresno State after defeating the Wolf Pack 23-21 on the road last Saturday. Matt Araiza kicked a 35-yard field goal with 1:21 left to secure the victory. Greg Bell led the rushing attack with 104 yards on 16 carries while the Aztecs' defense made Nevada one-dimensional by holding the home to just eight yards on the ground. Araiza also continued to put on a punting clinic, using his big leg to flip field position by averaging 55.6 yards per punt.

UNLV (2-8, 2-4) picked up its second straight win after defeating Hawaii 27-13 on Saturday in the Ninth Island Showdown to reclaim the Golden Pineapple trophy. Charles Williams gashed the Rainbow Warriors for 266 rushing yards on a school-record 38 carries (previous mark was 37 set by Ickey Woods in 1987). Hawaii got on the board quickly with a 79-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, but the Rebels' defense buckled down and held the Warriors to just two field goals the rest of the game. Kyle Beaudry registered 10 tackles, and Ricky Johnson stepped up with two interceptions.

San Diego State is 21-9 all-time against UNLV and has won six of the past seven meetings. The Rebels' last win came in 2018, 27-24 in Las Vegas.

No. 19 San Diego State at UNLV

Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 19 at 11:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -21

When San Diego State Has the Ball

Setting the tone with the running game must happen this week, especially since UNLV will try to do the same thing. Greg and Chance Bell (no relation) are a quality 1-2 punch at running back that's combined for 1,108 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns on the ground. Greg Bell does most of the work (he's third in the Mountain West in rushing), but Chance Bell is a nice complement who is averaging nearly five yards per carry (4.9) on his own. Lucas Johnson is a game manager compared to a gunslinger and he does a good job of taking what the defense gives him and not turning the football over. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in the win over Nevada. Tight end Daniel Bellinger has been the Aztecs' most productive pass catcher with 283 yards and two touchdowns on 26 receptions.

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UNLV's focus on defense needs to be to limit the SDSU's ground game and force Johnson to have to throw the ball. The Aztecs are averaging 137 passing yards per game with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. That should come as no surprise since this is a team that has run the ball 64 percent of the time this season. The Rebels did a great job last week of controlling the line of scrimmage, holding Hawaii to just 57 rushing yards on 28 carries. Beaudry has 10 tackles in each of the last two games, and he must continue this production and the UNLV's defense must try and find a way to come up with some turnovers. San Diego State has lost seven fumbles in addition to the four picks.

When UNLV Has the Ball

Last year, the Rebels struggled to run the ball against San Diego State, finishing with just 80 rushing yards in a 34-6 road loss. That simply won't cut it, especially considering UNLV's inconsistent passing attack. Williams has four games with 100 or more yards this season, and even though the team has won just one of them, the three losses were by a combined 14 points. The back known as the Chuck Wagon will have to get rolling against the Aztecs for the Rebels to have any shot of pulling off the upset.

That will be easier said than done, however. SDSU is third nationally against the run, giving up just 82.9 yards per game and only 2.8 yards per carry. If anything, scoring a rushing touchdown on Friday night would be a minor victory for UNLV considering the Aztecs have given up just four of them in 10 games. Williams probably won't be able to beat SDSU's defense by himself, so quarterback Cameron Friel needs to take a page out of his counterpart Johnson's playbook and be willing to take what the defense gives him. Friel has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (six), and he'll be going up against a defense that is holding teams to a 55 percent completion rate, 5.7 yards per attempt, and has picked off 10 passes.

San Diego State's defensive game plan starts up front with standout defensive end Cameron Thomas. He leads the conference with 16.5 tackles for a loss and is second with 8.5 sacks. He had two sacks and 3.5 TFLs in last week's win over Nevada. The Rebels' offensive line has put together pretty strong performances these last two games and comes into this one with some confidence, but solving Thomas and a pass rush that's averaging three sacks per game represents a different challenge.

Final Analysis

San Diego State should impose its will as the game unfolds and quietly pull away from UNLV in the second half. Johnson will put together another solid effort throwing the football as he spreads the ball around to guys like Bellinger as well as wide receivers Elijah Kothe and Jesse Matthews. The Rebels are improving as the season winds down, but they aren't quite there yet when it comes to competing with the Aztecs. UNLV will keep the game interesting for about a half but won't have enough to upset San Diego State. Aztecs take another step towards a division title with a solid win on Friday night.

Prediction: San Diego State 27, UNLV 13

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