UNLV’s first win could come Saturday against Utah State

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UNLV’s game at home against Utah State was one of the first games Rebel fans circled as one of the few opportunities on a tough schedule that UNLV might have a chance at winning. 

Still winless on the season (0-5), the Rebels are still looking to get the first win in the Marcus Arroyo era, and it might come Saturday evening against Utah State, 

The Rebels are coming off a much-needed bye week. A mix of a challenging opening five games and several injuries made this bye week a crucial one for UNLV to try and get healthy ahead of its final seven games. 

Despite a zero in the win column, the Rebels have shown signs of improvement and stretches where they can be a decent team. The problem is the Rebels have failed to put a full 60 minutes together for a win. 

Compared to last year, the Rebels struggled to put any drives together and were behind by several scores before they even got their footing. Now, while still not perfect or where they want to be, the Rebels have shown the ability to put scoring drives together, convert on third down, and create turnovers. 

Another issue has been injuries. QB Doug Brumfield missed the last game against UTSA, and according to reporters at UNLV football practice, he is still not 100 percent, making his status against Utah State questionable. 

With Brumfield out, freshman QB Cameron Friel has stepped up nicely to be a fine replacement for the injured Brumfield. Friel has still made some freshman mistakes, but his performances against Fresno State and UTSA have reassured Rebel fans and coaches the offense isn’t doomed with Brumfield out. 

While the starting quarterback situation remains very fluid, it’s been helpful to see the reemergence of RB Charles Williams. Averaging 80 yards per game, the run game has helped the offense open up with big plays down the field, and made the passing game more of a threat overall. 

Arroyo has talked many times about the importance of the run game, how establishing an attack on the ground will help the passing game, and offense overall. Having Williams back producing at the levels he is capable of has helped the Rebels have respectable showings on offense throughout the season. 

Defensively, the Rebels have had some of the same issues many teams of the past had. One issue has been the inability to finish games due to the defense getting tired. When the offense has had its struggles, it puts the defense in a tough spot of having to go back out there and get stops. 

Why has the defense been getting tired? Well, they have also had their own share of injuries. DB Phillip Hill, who has two interceptions for UNLV, and DL Adam Plant Jr., who has two sacks, have missed time with injuries of their own. But, according to accounts at UNLV practice, they are back practicing and will be back against Utah State, giving the UNLV defense a boost. 

Going against the Aggies, the two teams are more similar than they appear at first look. While Utah State has a better record and averages 493 yards of offense per game, they’re similar to UNLV defensively. 

Utah State is 11th in the Mountain West (141.9) and UNLV is last (173.3) in defensive efficiency. And the Rebels are 11th (454.4) and the Aggies are last (463.8) in yards allowed per game. UNLV’s weak point is yards through the air, allowing 302 yards of passing per game, while the Aggies struggle to defend the run, averaging 204 rushing yards per game. 

With two struggling defenses, we could see an offensive explosion Saturday when they both meet. UNLV has an opportunity to expose the weak Utah State run defense with a big game from Charles Williams. And that could open up the passing game to give either Friel or Brumfield a chance to make plays through the air. 

On the other side of the ball, the Rebels will need to force turnovers. Utah State starting QB Logan Bonner has thrown six interceptions through five games. UNLV did a good job forcing turnovers in its first four games but will need to get a few more against Utah State. 

A win will be coming soon for the Rebels, and it might come on Saturday. While the frustration with UNLV fans is real with the winless record, so is the progress UNLV has shown this season. A full 60-minute performance with a team at its healthiest in a while, at home, might be the right set of circumstances for UNLV to get its first win. Don’t be surprised if it happens against the Aggies.

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