Five things to know about Utah State’s matchup with UNLV – Cache Valley Daily

LOGAN – Prior to the season, no one anticipated that this week’s matchup of Utah State and UNLV would be of any consequence, but it’s turned into a huge game for both sides. The Rebels are looking to validate their strong start and the Aggies are in desperate need of a turnaround. In different ways this week is a must-win for both sides, though it’s much more of a must-win for the Aggies, whose season could stumble completely out of control with a second straight home loss.

USU head coach Blake Anderson has been a major critic of his own team this past week, repeatedly talking about his team’s shortcomings and his desire to see those improved. On Monday he re-iterated those points again, saying the team has been “our own worst enemy” and that they’ve not yet played “our best ball.”

“We’ve played extremely hard but have not played well. We’ve got to put those two thing together,” Anderson said. “And no better time than this Saturday.”

Here are the things to know as Utah State attempts to put into affect all the improvements it worked on during the bye week.

Game Info

  • Kickoff: 5 p.m. MT
  • Location: Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium
  • TV Broadcast: CBS Sports Network
  • Aggie GameDay Coverage on KVNU (102.1 FM/610 AM & KVNU mobile app) & simulcast on 106.9 The FAN (106.9 FM / 1390 AM & 106.9 The FAN mobile app): 3:30 p.m. MT on location at Prodigy Brewery
  • KVNU Aggie Call (102.1 FM/610 AM, KVNU mobile app + 106.9 FM / 1390 AM The FAN, 106.9 The FAN mobile app): Immediately after game ends

UNLV riding high

The Rebels’ start to the year is looking far different from how seasons usually begin in Las Vegas. UNLV is 2-1 to start the year, its best start since 2018 and just the second time the Rebels have gone 2-1 to start the season since 2009.

“UNLV is a much better football team than we saw a year ago,” Anderson said on Monday. “Completely different look than what we saw a year ago and they were a challenge to beat last year at their place.”

Utah State barely survived last year’s matchup with a UNLV squad that finished the season 2-10. The Aggies won thanks to an 11-yard touchdown run by Elelyon Noa with 43 seconds to go in the game. This year the game will be played in Logan which will bring some advantage, but an improved Rebels team is making the trip, evening out the odds.

Two of UNLV’s games have seen the Rebels score more than 50 points – a 52-21 win against FCS Idaho State and 58-27 against North Texas.

Bonner struggling with trusting injured knee, on a “very short leash” this week

Controversy exploded around Bonner in the wake of the Weber State loss. Many were calling for the man who set the school record for passing yards last season to be benched outright in favor of Cooper Legas. Anderson went to bat in a big way for Bonner and caught some flack in the process.

A major point in the talk about Bonner has been the recovery from his knee injury in the LA Bowl at the end of last year. That recovery hasn’t gone smoothly. Physically, Bonner’s knee is as good as ever. But in his mind, Bonner has yet to fully trust a knee he had to, in real time, rebuild almost from scratch.

“He has been open, he is struggling a little bit anxiety-wise with truly trusting his body,” Anderson said.

While Anderson still vouches for Bonner, on Monday he made it clear that there’s no more time to wait for Bonner to get his mind right over the knee. He’ll the start this week, it very well could be the now-or-never point for him.

“He is on a very short leash, he knows that,” Anderson said. “We can’t continue to play second-guessing what the knee will and won’t do. He’s got to move the chains with his feet. He had opportunities to do that last week and the week before and didn’t.”

UNLV has a great QB and RB duo

While Utah State is trying to solidify its quarterback position, the Rebels are very content with how they are doing at QB. Doug Brumfield, a junior making his second go at being the full-time starter (Brumfield started two games early last year before a season-ending injury in late September) is playing quality ball through three games.

Brumfield has completed at least 77 percent of his passes in two of UNLV’s three games (yes, that correlates perfectly with the team’s two wins in three tries), leads the Mountain West with seven touchdown passes and has a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, by far the best in the conference.

“Brumfield is playing very well,” Anderson said, who noted the UNLV QB’s 70.6 percent completion rate, but also said that “the hidden message is just how well he’s moving the chains with his feet. Don’t know what his stats were, but he moved the chains several times against North Texas.”

Last week Brumfield rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the Rebels’ win over North Texas.

At running back, UNLV boasts another solid back in Aidan Robbins. A year ago, the Aggies allowed Charles Williams to run for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Well, Robbins just ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns against the Mean Green.

USU without two starters after injuries

The Aggies took two big hits on the depth chart during the bye week as two players were ruled out for the rest of the year with knee injuries. Starting slot wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen and starting defensive tackle Phillip Paea will both no longer be available as they undergo surgery and rehab for their injuries. Van Leeuwen is second on the team in receptions with eight for 88 yards and a touchdown. Paea was second among USU’s defensive linemen in total snaps and had recorded two tackles on the year, plus his first career interception against Weber State.

Filling in these two spots will be somewhat difficult but we’ve already seen the players who will take on that responsibility. Redshirt freshman Seni Tuiaki has already been pushed into extra action with all the injuries on the defensive front, and leads the defensive line in total snaps. Sophomore Tavian Coleman played a career-high 56 snaps against Weber State, that number inflated after Paea left the game. Bo Maile and Aurion Peoples are also on the short list of fill-ins.

At the slot receiver spot it’s very likely we’ll see much more of Terrell Vaughn and NyNy Davis. Vaughn’s kick return touchdown showcased his dynamic athleticism and the Aggies could certainly use that in the passing game. Davis also brings speed to the table which may help USU stretch the field. Anderson also brought up Kyrese Rowan, a transfer from the University of Utah who’s been injured up to this point of the season.

For those hoping to see more involvement from the tight ends, Anderson mentioned Broc Lane as a guy “that you’d enjoy playing out in space” while discussing filling in the hole left by Van Leeuwen.

UNLV great at getting after the quarterback

The Rebels rank T-10th in sacks among all FBS teams with 10 so far this season. Those 10 sacks are spread amongst nine players with eight having 1.0 sacks and Adam Plant Jr. having 2.0.

“Pretty similar to us,” Anderson said. “They have twitch on the edge. Their three technique is plenty good enough to win one-on-one. So they provide problems.”

Anderson added that UNLV’s pass-rush is balanced by the team’s ability to play effective man-to-man coverage on the back end. Last week USU struggled to break free of Weber State’s press man coverage. Doing so this week will be key to not having multiple drives ended by untimely sacks.

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