San Diego State (7-2, 4-1) has dominated its recent series of games against UNLV (2-7, 0-5) as the Aztecs have won the last four games by an average score of 41–12. These two teams will meet in San Diego on Saturday with their seasons again going in opposite directions.
It took a while for San Diego State to put away New Mexico last Saturday night as the Aztecs had to rally to beat the Lobos 31-23. Turnovers were the biggest reason why the Aztecs had such a hard time against New Mexico as the Lobos opening the scoring with a 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Adebayo Soremekun. Christian Chapman returned at quarterback and did a solid job in the passing game completing 13-of-19 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Juwan Washington anchored the running game with 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Rebels have been in a bit of a free fall without quarterback Armani Rogers, who will be returning this week from a foot injury that cost him five games. Last week, UNLV lost at home to Fresno State 48–3 as the Bulldogs were dominant on both sides of the ball for four quarters. Charles Williams did a good job of running the ball as he rushed for 121 yards on 16 carries. Quarterback Max Gilliam was under siege all night from the Fresno State defense, hitting only 14-of-30 passes for 98 yards. Coach Tony Sanchez is under fire in his fourth season as the Rebels have once again come up short in qualifying for a bowl game. Off the field, Sanchez has fundraised well and elevate the overall culture; now it's just a matter of him finding a way to make it to the new Raiders stadium in 2020. The last thing UNLV needs is to start over again at head coach.
UNLV at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Aztecs -22.5
Three Things to Watch
1. San Diego State offensive balance
The Aztecs will need to impose their will on the Rebels as their offensive line will have the physical advantage over the UNLV defensive front. Washington should see the ball early and often to set up the play-action passing game as San Diego State rushed for 302 yards last year against the Rebels. Ball security is going to be key for Washington and the rest of the running backs as UNLV has 10 fumble recoveries this season. Chapman will have another week of practice to regain chemistry with the wide receivers who will have a big advantage this week against the Rebels. UNLV is allowing 256.6 yards per game through the air, which ranks 122nd out of 129 FBS teams. Thus, offensive coordinator Jeff Horton is going to have every opportunity to put the Aztecs offense in position to go off for 40 points this week.
2. Armani Rogers and Lexington Thomas
Rogers is a dual-threat quarterback who will need to hit the ground running week with both his arm and legs against San Diego State. You can expect the Aztecs to do everything they can to keep Rogers in the pocket and force him to beat them through the air. That will be easier said than done as Rogers had rushed for 488 yards on the season prior to getting injured against Arkansas State. Moreover, Thomas is a strong enough threat at running back to really cause headaches for the Aztecs defense. Thomas is on pace for a 1,000-yard season as he has 763 yards heading into Saturday night’s contest. The game plan should be like the USC game where the Rebels were able to hang around until the fourth quarter as they rushed for 308 yards against the Trojans in week one.
3. San Diego State Defense
The mission of the Aztecs is simple in this game on the defensive side of the ball. Load the box with eight or nine and dare Rogers and the Rebels wide receivers to beat you throwing the football. Last week down in Albuquerque, San Diego State completed eliminated the New Mexico passing game and that paid off late in the second half once they got the lead. Forcing turnovers would also help the Aztecs defense a lot as they have struggled all year long to win the turnover battle as they are minus five on the season in that department. Look for San Diego State to try and punch the ball out of Rogers and Thomas’ hands to try and force a couple of fumbles in the first half to swing the momentum of the game.
Penalties are also going to be key in this game for the Aztecs as they have not done a very good job in recent weeks in that department. San Diego State has 74 penalties for 644 yards so this season and that is another underrated reason why they aren’t blowing teams out in 2018. It will be extremely important for the Aztecs to play with a higher level of discipline and not give away unnecessary yardage from penalties that are within their control. San Diego State still has an opportunity to win its division with a trip to Fresno State up next week. The sense of urgency should be high this week for the Aztecs to methodically pull away and get a solid 21-point win over the Rebels to improve to 8–2 on the year.
Prediction: San Diego State 38, UNLV 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.