Aztecs head to Vegas to take on surging UNLV

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Andrew Finley

SDSU prepares to run out of the tunnel in their pivotal game against Nevada on Nov. 13

by James Salazar, Staff Writer

After a big 23-21 win against the Nevada Wolf Pack, the San Diego State Aztecs (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West Conference) will travel to Las Vegas on a short week to face off against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels (2-8, 2-4 Mountain West Conference) on Friday, Nov. 19.

Both teams are entering this weekend on the heels of two consecutive victories, albeit under very different circumstances. For the Aztecs, it builds on a historical season. For the Rebels, it marks their first and only two wins of the year thus far but also ties their longest “winning-streak” since 2013.

The Aztecs have dominated this series in recent history — winning eight of the last ten contests by an average margin of victory of 20.5 points — including a 34-6 drubbing last season. The folks in Vegas — the oddsmakers not the Rebels (at least, hopefully not the Rebels) — are anticipating more of the same as the Aztecs open as 11-point favorites.

Despite what the prognosticators say you still have to play the game. SDSU head coach Brady Hoke knows this when asked if there is a concern of guys looking past this game. 

“Yes, there’s no doubt… Going out there and not preparing the way you have week after week after week, that’s a problem,” Hoke said, “We got to make sure as coaches and as players that we’re into the details and we’re into the preparation.”

Offense

The best thing to say about the Rebels’ offense is that it’s balanced, repping a 52% to 48% run-to-pass-ratio. Their 21.5 points per game and 313.9 yards per game averages are the third and second-worst in the MWC respectively.

The passing attack — led by freshman quarterback Cameron Friel — ranks a measly eighth and ninth in the MWC in yards and touchdowns respectively. Friel has thrown a meager six touchdowns to ten interceptions. The passing woes aren’t all on Friel — the Rebels’ offensive line surrenders the most sacks per game in the MWC — 3.4.

There is a bright spot on this Rebel’s offense. Senior running back Charles Williams leads all MWC rushers in yards with 1089 and leads all MWC skill-players in scores with 13 touchdowns. Despite Williams having a great year — averaging 4.9 yards per carry — he accounts for 90% of the team’s total rushing yards. The Rebels’ remaining 122 rush attempts have gone for just 119 yards — less than one yard per attempt. The Rebels’ have the conference’s leading rusher and still manage to rank a tragic tenth in rushing in the MWC.

“I’d say [Williams] is pretty doggone physical for sure” Hoke said, “It’s something that we got to do a great job with. We got to tackle a little better and leverage the ball better than we did last week.”

Defense

The defense is more of the same. UNLV is the sheepish owners of the conference’s second-worst total defense and passing defense regarding yards. This unit is also last and tied for last in scoring defense and sacks in the MWC. They also have demonstrated no ability to get teams off the field, as UNLV trots out the second-worst third-down defense and gives up the second-most first-downs per game in the MWC.

The best that the stats can say about the defense is they are middle of the pack in terms of rushing yards allowed and takeaways in the NCAA.

Regardless of the numbers, senior tight end Daniel Bellinger and the Aztec offense are not overlooking the Rebels’ defense.

“When you look at these guys on film, these guys are some studs,” Bellinger said, “They got some guys up front that are good and they got athletic guys in the secondary.”

Consensus

In the words of NFL legend Bill Parcells “You are what your record says you are,” and UNLV’s conference-worst record says they’ve struggled. Every metric says the Aztecs should cover the 11-point spread comfortably. However, the Rebels are 7-3 against the spread this year — including games against UTSA and Fresno where the Rebels were 21.5 and 30-point dogs respectively and came within a possession in both games. One need only go back to 2018 when UNLV entered this matchup as a 23-point underdog and beat SDSU 27-24. The Aztecs must stay focused to avoid falling into that trap again.

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