UNLV will look for its second straight road upset when the Rebels face the Fresno State Bulldogs in Mountain West play on Friday night. Last week, UNLV (2-4, 0-1 Mountain West) was a 15.5-point underdog on the road against Vanderbilt. The Rebels left Nashville, Tennessee, with their first-ever road win over an SEC team, an impressive 34-10 victory.
Can they do it again vs. a Fresno State (2-3, 0-1) team that's the defending conference champion? A year after going 12-2, a season that included a 48-3 thumping of UNLV and was capped by a win over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl, the Bulldogs are struggling to find consistency — and victories.
Fresno State lost 43-24 at Air Force last week in its Mountain West opener to fall below .500. The good news for the Bulldogs is that they still have plenty of conference games to go so ground can be made up. But it needs to start at home on Friday night against a team that's coming off one of the biggest wins in program history.
Before last season's beatdown, UNLV had won the previous two meetings with Fresno State, including a 26-16 victory in Bulldog Stadium in 2017.
UNLV at Fresno State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 17, at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Fresno State -15.5
When UNLV Has the Ball
Fresno State can expect a heavy dose of the run game from the Rebels. After all, the ground attack represented more than half (206) of their total yards (378) in the 34-10 upset of Vanderbilt.
And history suggests staying grounded is the best way for UNLV to pave a path to victory. While the Rebels don't bring the threat of the triple option, like Air Force did last week in running 69 times for 340 yards against the Bulldogs, they have found success when they stuck with the run.
UNLV is 7-3 in the last 10 games with at least 50 rushing attempts. Last week's 206-yard performance came on a season-high 53 carries. Fresno State is eighth in the Mountain West in rushing defense, allowing 155.6 yards per game and 10 touchdowns, but is holding teams to under four yards per carry.
For the Rebels, Charles Williams has led the way on the ground. The junior is second in the conference with 598 rushing yards and is averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He's already scored seven times on the ground. The Bulldogs also will need to account for sophomore Chad Magyar who broke through with 116 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries last week against Vanderbilt.
The Rebels' running game is even more important right now with a quarterback still learning the ropes. Freshman Kenyon Oblad, who replaced Arman Rogers after he suffered a knee injury in late September, attempted just 16 passes last week against the Commodores. He completed 11 of them for 172 yards and two touchdowns. So perhaps the young signal-caller can continue to add a passing element to this offense.
Oblad's favorite target in the win over Vanderbilt was USC transfer Randall Grimes — brother of Fresno State basketball star Nate Grimes. Randall had three catches for 76 yards and a score last week and leads the team with 22 receptions for 308 yards with two touchdowns.
When Fresno State Has the Ball
Everything is peachy with the Bulldogs to begin games this season. But then along comes halftime and the offense falls apart. Jeff Tedford's team bottomed out in last week's loss to Air Force, averaging a paltry 1.3 yards on 13 plays in the second half.
"It's one football game," Tedford told reporters afterward. "There's a lot of football left. I have confidence that our kids will go out and give everything they have. I would hope that the fans aren't to that point after that game to say, 'OK we're giving up.' Because we're sure not giving up."
OK, but the sudden in-game stumble on offense is part of an ugly trend that needs fixing fast at Fresno State.
The third quarter, in particular, has been unkind to the Bulldogs, who have manufactured just one touchdown in that frame through five games. Senior QB Jorge Reyna, with his 1,226 passing yards and nine TDs, needs to lead the charge. So, too, does his favorite target, sophomore Zane Pope, whose 22 catches lead the team.
The run game is paced by workhorse junior Ronnie Rivers, who has gained 253 yards on 62 carries, although Reyna has already seen a fair amount of carries (48) himself.
UNLV is not usually known for defense, but the Rebels held Vanderbilt to just 10 points and 140 passing yards last week thanks in part to the efforts of Javin White, the reigning Mountain West defensive player of the week. The senior linebacker finished with seven tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, had an interception, and a forced fumble as the Rebels gave up the fewest points in a game in four years.
Never mind that Fresno State leads the all-time series 15-6. Because confidence should play a vital role in what happens Friday night. Obviously, UNLV comes in loaded with it after a remarkable road win over an SEC team. And Fresno State, in contrast, isn't clicking on all cylinders these days.
But it's extremely difficult to score two wins over favored opponents in two straight weeks. That alone makes it tough on the Rebels.
So this time, not even another third-quarter swoon will prevent the Bulldogs from picking up their first Mountain West victory of the season.
Prediction: Fresno State 36, UNLV 28
(Top photo by Lucas Peltier, courtesy of unlvrebels.com)