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UNLV vs. Nevada Football Prediction and Preview

Carson Strong, Nevada Wolf Pack Football

Carson Strong and the Wolfpack look to maintain possession of the Fremont Cannon when they host the rival Rebels in Mountain West divisional play on Friday night

The 2021 edition of the Battle of the Fremont Cannon, which is one of the more unique rivalry trophies out there, awaits college football fans in the state of Nevada on Friday night. UNLV (0-7, 0-3 Mountain West) heads up north to Reno to take on Nevada (5-2, 2-1) at Mackay Stadium. The rivalry has been competitive over the last 10 games, with the Wolf Pack winning six, including a 37-19 win last Halloween in Las Vegas.

UNLV is still looking for its first win after falling at home, 27-20 to San Jose State, in a dramatic contest last Thursday. Cameron Friel completed 20 of 28 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. Charles Williams rushed for 94 yards on 24 carries, but it wasn't enough as the Spartans came up with a crucial stop when Kyle Harmon sacked Friel at the end of a 19-play drive in the fourth quarter. For the Rebels, that play was especially deflating because a sustained, potential game-tying drive didn't result in any points. The defense didn't have enough answers for SJSU quarterback Nick Nash, who threw for 213 yards and rushed for 121 in the win.

Nevada also lost last week, 34-32 in a nail-biter at Fresno State. The Wolf Pack had a chance to force overtime with two seconds left after Carson Strong threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cole Turner. But the subsequent two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful and the clock hit 0:00 as Nevada recovered the onside kick. Strong put up big numbers in the losing effort, completing 49-of-61 passes for 476 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. Romeo Doubs caught 19 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Turner finished with eight catches for 105 yards and two scores. The Wolf Pack couldn't run the ball effectively, managing just 47 rushing yards, and gave up 214 (and two TDs) on the ground to the Bulldogs.

UNLV at Nevada

Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 29 at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Nevada -20

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When UNLV Has the Ball

Friel will have to make some dynamic plays in the passing game this week for the Rebels to have a chance to win. The best way for head coach Marcus Arroyo to accomplish this is to give his young quarterback opportunities to throw right away. Getting Charles Williams going on the ground will only help this. Williams is second in the Mountain West in rushing with 719 yards (and seven touchdowns) on five yards per carry. Nevada is in the middle of the pack in the conference when it comes to stopping the run (143.6 ypg) but has been run over on occasion (see Fresno State last Saturday). So expect a healthy dose of Williams to try and take some pressure off of Friel and Rebels passing attack that has generated just five touchdowns through the air through seven games.

On the other side, the Wolf Pack would love to force Friel to try and beat them with his arm. Nevada is tied for third in the nation with 28 sacks with Tristan Nichols (8.0 sacks, tied for second in FBS), Dom Peterson (4.5 sacks), and Sam Hammond (4.0 sacks) leading the way. UNLV has given the same number of sacks (last in Mountain West, tied for 125th nationally), so expect both of these numbers to increase unless Williams is able to run freely. Don't be surprised if the Wolf Pack stack the box to try and contain the Chuck Wagon. 

When Nevada Has the Ball

It will be in the best interest of head coach Jay Norvell to put the foot on the gas offensively this week to try and put UNLV away early. Strong had a good game last time out against the Rebels, throwing for 350 yards and two touchdowns. Doubs went for 219 yards and a score on seven catches in last season's win in Las Vegas. This time, UNLV not only has to contend with Doubs, but also Turner, Melquan Stovall, and Justin Lockhart as well. All four are among the top 15 in the Mountain West in receiving yards and have combined for 12 of the Wolf Pack's 21 touchdown receptions this season.

The Rebels pretty much need to force some turnovers to give them any hope of hanging around this game. They do have three takeaways over their last two games, although Strong has tossed just four interceptions in 307 pass attempts. Nevada's offensive line has allowed 21 sacks in seven games, but UNLV has registered just seven (last in the MW), so it doesn't seem like that will be much of a factor. The Rebels need Austin Ajiake and Jacoby Windmon to make some big plays, whether it's making a stop behind the line of scrimmage or creating a turnover. Playing on the road, UNLV has to do something to try and flip the momentum early.

Final Analysis

Nevada has the personnel advantage on both sides of the ball and is battling San Diego State and Fresno State for the Mountain West West Division title. UNLV has is merely playing out the string with no hopes of achieving bowl eligibility. Yes, the Rebels won in Reno in 2019 and this is still a rivalry game. But the Wolf Pack have too much firepower. Strong will continue to pad his numbers as the home team methodically lights up the scoreboard to maintain possession of the Fremont Cannon.

Prediction: Nevada 41, UNLV 23