Pair of 1-4 teams square off in Nashville in first-ever meeting
The scoreboard has rarely offered UNLV or Vanderbilt reason to smile in 2019, as each team enters Saturday’s matchup with just one win to its credit. Both, incidentally, come in on the heels of 25-point losses, with UNLV’s at home against now-No. 14 Boise State and Vanderbilt’s on the road at Ole Miss.
UNLV is one of four Mountain West teams yet to win in conference play, joining Colorado State as the only other MW team with two in-conference losses (New Mexico and Nevada are 0-1 in MW games). The only notch in the win column for the Rebels came in the opening week of the season — a 56-23 win over Southern Utah — as four losses by a combined 164-61 margin have brought them to their current 1-4 record. But Vanderbilt has had equal trouble keeping teams out of the end zone, allowing fewer than 30 points only once — a 24-18 win over Northern Illinois). In their four losses, the Commodores have allowed 169 points — including 66 to LSU in Week 4 — and have scored just 74, with both Georgia and Ole Miss holding Vanderbilt to just six points.
These two teams have never met, and their experience with the other’s conference is surprisingly limited. UNLV is 1-2 all-time against the SEC, while Vanderbilt had played only Air Force (five meetings between 1976-82) before hosting Nevada last year. Vanderbilt earns the distinction of playing consecutive games against teams nicknamed the Rebels (Ole Miss, UNLV).
UNLV at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Vanderbilt -14.5
When UNLV Has the Ball
Making his first career start against Boise State in place of injured Armani Rogers (sprained knee), Kenyon Oblad passed for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns, finding Darren Woods Jr. and Randal Grimes for scores in the passing game. But Oblad was hardly efficient as the Rebels needed to play catch-up quickly; he completed just 24 of his 55 passes with an interception.
Because of the deficit, the Rebels largely had to abandon the run game, which was working fairly well after being virtually nonexistent against Wyoming. Not counting negative yardage from sacks, the Rebels barely eclipsed 100 yards, with Charles Williams and Chad Magyar combining for exactly 100. That came a week after the Cowboys held UNLV to just 77 yards rushing with Williams the leading rusher at just 30 yards on 11 carries. The run game will receive a boost if head coach Tony Sanchez believes Rogers is healthy enough to return, though Oblad will in all likelihood start on Saturday.
The Commodores’ defensive struggles have been well documented, but they’ll hope to build on their relative success against Northern Illinois — they held the Huskies to 18 points — as opposed to this past week when Ole Miss piled up 415 yards rushing. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee passed for only 99 yards but rushed for 165 more with a touchdown, and Jerrion Ealy and Jarod Conner showed tremendous big-play ability with just nine combined carries between them for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Against LSU it was the Commodores’ pass defense that struggled, while Ole Miss found holes up front, so Vanderbilt will hope to shore up both areas in advance of UNLV's visit.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Ke’Shawn Vaughn couldn’t keep his momentum after consecutive games topping 130 yards rushing against LSU and Northern Illinois with three total touchdowns in those two games. Against Ole Miss, Vaughn rushed for just 69 yards on 18 carries, as he was held under 100 yards for the first time since Week 2 against Purdue.
Riley Neal hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard since his big game against Purdue, and as a result, many in Nashville want an expanded look at Deuce Wallace in the coming weeks. Neal has been good-not-great, posting games of 206, 189 and 140 yards passing in the last three weeks while his completion percentage has been 60 percent or higher in two of the three. Wallace, meanwhile, saw limited action against Ole Miss (7-of-16, 62 yards passing) but possesses upside that some believe can lift the Commodores’ offense going forward. Head coach Derek Mason has said that Wallace “is coming” to the quarterback competition but emphasized that Neal is the starter for now.
Going back to the middle of the Rebels’ Week 5 loss to Wyoming, UNLV’s defense has allowed 80 points in its last seven quarters of play. UNLV led 10-7 after a quarter against the Cowboys, but a 26-point quarter for Wyoming catapulted the latter into a lead it would never relinquish. It was more of the same against the Broncos last week, as Boise State got what it wanted on the ground (182 yards) and through the air (325 yards).
In a battle of underperforming teams, look for defense to be a big story. Vanderbilt’s defense will hope it can find the recipe that worked against Northern Illinois and drop what didn’t work in SEC contests, while UNLV will look to halt its four-game streak of allowing at least 30 points. Vanderbilt doesn’t have the most frightening offense, but there’s certainly enough talent for the Commodores to earn a win against the Rebels.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 27, UNLV 20
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)