LOGAN—The 2020 pandemic-shortened season wasn’t kind to either the Utah State or UNLV football programs. USU went 1-5, while UNLV lost all six games. The Aggies have mostly rebounded in 2021, winning its first three games before dropping the next two. USU is currently at 3-2 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
UNLV, though, is still looking for that first win. The Rebels are 0-5 overall and 0-1 in the Mountain West. Utah State will be hoping to extend that losing streak just a little bit longer when the team makes a trip to Las Vegas Saturday evening.
The game will start Saturday Oct. 16 at 5 p.m.
Just because UNLV has zero wins doesn’t mean they haven’t been close. Aggie head coach Blake Anderson cautioned that “on any given week, anybody can beat anybody,” and pointed out that UNLV has been in its most recent two games, losing to Fresno State 38-30 and then to UTSA 24-17.
Anderson is convinced that UNLV’s first-year head coach Marcus Arroyo is going to get things put together—it is just a matter of when. He said he’s noticed that Arroyo’s players haven’t slowed down or quit in any of the games. Even when trailing big to Iowa State, Anderson noticed they played hard through the end of the game. To Anderson, that is a sign of players who trust their coach. He doesn’t want his own players assuming this will be an easy game, just because there is a zero in the opponent’s win column.
“They’re going to win some games,” he said. “We just don’t want it to be this week.”
Aggie safety Hunter Reynolds agreed, saying UNLV’s record is not indicative of the talent on its roster.
“They play hard,” he said. “They’ve been in a lot of close games. They are definitely not an opponent we are taking lightly.”
UNLV is averaging 102.8 yards per game on the ground and 179.6 through the air. In many ways they are still trying to figure things out. Three different quarterbacks have started through the first three games, but it was Cameron Friel, a freshman from Hawaii, who started the most recent game vs UTSA.
Senior Charles Williams has been the strength of the Rebels’ running game, getting the majority of touches of any UNLV running back and averaging 4.3 yards per carry on those opportunities. Anderson sees Williams’ strength as being multidimensional.
“He can do everything they need,” Anderson said. “He is not a liability catching the ball, is not a liability protecting. He can do all those things, and then carry the ball as he does.”
But UNLV’s biggest strength, Anderson said, is on the defensive side of the ball—specifically the front seven. He said UNLV’s defense is similar to USU’s, in terms of creating pressure and making the quarterback uncomfortable.
Senior offensive lineman Demytrick Ali’ifua said he remembers lining up against UNLV’s front seven the last time the teams met in 2018. He said the Rebel defensive line was tough then, just like it is now, and stressed that it will be important to get the run game going early.
Both teams are coming off bye weeks and have had extra time to plan and heal up. Bye weeks have been nothing but good for USU in the last ten seasons. Since 2012, the Aggies are 12-0 coming off byes.
Anderson said this break was primarily spent trying to get healthy and “doing fundamental work.” That meant taking the pads off, doing cardio and delaying game plan specifics until the actual game week.
“We needed it,” he said. “We needed to get healed up. Hopefully we’ve gotten that done. We’ll see.”
One key player benefitting from the time off is Aggie quarterback Logan Bonner, who left the BYU game with what Anderson called a hyperextended knee and a reaggravated thigh injury. He said Bonner will be close to 100 percent.
“I think he’ll be probably as healthy as he’s been since fall camp,” Anderson said. “He was beat up in the Washington State game and has played with an injury the whole time. Has really reaggravated that injury a couple times. Most of what happened the other night against BYU was the same thing.”
UNLV has been losing, but at least they’ve been doing it in a shiny new home. UNLV shares a home with the Las Vegas Raiders, and are benefitting by playing in the newest NFL stadium.
The $1.9 billion stadium was built with 28,000 tons of steel. According to a UNLV press release, the 105,000 cubic yards of concrete is enough to build a sidewalk from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. When the Raiders play the field is natural grass, but when UNLV takes the field the playing surface is slid out and switched to artificial. The video screen is 11,000 square feet and the stadium seats 65,000 fans, though Anderson said he is expecting the stadium to be less than half full.