UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (3-4, 2-1 MW)
All time series: CSU leads 15-6-1
The Colorado State Rams head to Las Vegas on Saturday to take on a UNLV team that can boast something this season that the Rams can not, two wins in conference play. The game is shaping up to be pivotal for two teams vying for postseason play as a win in this game puts either team just two games out of a bowl berth, but coach Mike Bobo’s main focus is still putting together a four-quarter football game. Another shot comes Saturday.
“We are looking forward to putting together a complete game,” Bobo said during Monday’s game week press conference. “Everybody understands what’s out there if you win X numbers of games, but that’s something that we won’t be talking about as a program.”
The Rebels started the year with former Nebraska Cornhusker and juco transfer Johnny Stanton at quarterback, but after an injury sidelined the junior in the team’s week four win over Idaho, the Rebels turned to redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed. In his first career start in the team’s week five win against Fresno State, Sneed threw for 129 yards and one touchdown, and showed he had some ability with his legs, running for 147 yards and a 91-yard touchdown that went down as the longest in school history.
Though Stanton is now healthy and ready to return, Sneed will remain the starter. For the season, Sneed has thrown for 423 yards and three touchdowns on 30-56 passing, while running for 264 yards on 38 attempts.
The UNLV offense runs through a ground attack that ranks third in the run-heavy Mountain West conference at 247.7 yards-per-game. The two-headed threat in sophomore Lexington Thomas and freshman Charles Williams lead that rushing attack. Thomas ranks fifth in the conference with 601 total rushing yards to go along with eight touchdowns, while Williams has spelled Thomas effectively, running for 419 yards on 72 carries.
“They have a very good offense,” Bobo said on Monday. “They know how to run the ball, they do a lot of run-pass options, they have been scoring a lot of points, so it will be a big challenge for us defensively.”
Deep threat Devonte Boyd returns on the outside for the Rebels. Boyd was a preseason first team All-Mountain West selection, and so far he is living up to that billing. Boyd has caught 26 balls for 421 yards, good for 16.2-yards per reception, along with four touchdowns.
The UNLV defense returned eight defensive starters from one of the worst statistical defenses in the conference last season. The Rebels have certainly improved defensively since last season, but still rank eighth in the conference in scoring defense at 30.9 points per game. On average, the Rebels give up 163 yards per game on the ground, and 250.4 through the air.
Last season, the Rebels were one of the worst teams in all of college football in getting to the passer, as the team finished the season with only nine total sacks.
This year, nine different players on the Rebel defense have recorded at least one sack, while the team as a whole has eleven sacks through seven games.
The rebels defense runs through the linebacker corps, especially through the senior duo of weakside linebacker Tau Lotulelei and middle linebacker Ryan McAleenan. McAleenan is the most experienced returning player on the UNLV roster with 27 career starts and he ranks third on the team with 50 total tackles.
Lotulelei leads the team with 61 total tackles to go along with 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.
“(Defensively) I see guys understanding what they are trying to do,” Bobo said of the UNLV defense this season. “(They are) playing with a little more confidence, and playing more aggressive in the run game. Their Will linebacker (Lotulelei), I think he is a really really good football player.”
Senior safeties Kenny Keys and Troy Hawthorne have also played big roles for the Rebel defense this season. Hawthorne sits second on the team in total tackles with 59, and has one of the three Rebel interceptions this season, while Keys is fourth on the team in tackles with 32.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5