3 keys to beating the Rebels
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl hopes the third time is the charm.
The last two weeks, the Cowboys have prepared to play Air Force and Utah State. Both rivalry games. Both at home.
Both times, Bohl's football team was forced to simply practice.
The Falcons and Aggies canceled those games in Laramie. COVID-19 issues on campus and among the team was the culprit.
UNLV, Wyoming's opponent this Friday in Las Vegas, also axed its last game. The Rebels were supposed to play in Fort Collins last Saturday. Four positives for the virus and a contact tracing nightmare later, it wasn't in the cards, as they would say in Sin City.
Marcus Arroyo said his team was missing "about 49 guys" as the Rebels prepare to play the Pokes. One of those positive cases has returned to the lineup. A few others have trickled in, too. So far, the game is still scheduled for 2 p.m. MST inside Allegiant Stadium.
If so, here are a few things the Cowboys might want to focus on if they hope to snag their second victory of this odd 2020 campaign:
Charles in charge
UNLV might be winless. The Rebels might not have many stats that jump off the page. In fact, UNLV boasts one of the worst scoring offenses in the nation. The passing offense averages just 178 yards per outing.
Can't blame any of that on Charles Williams.
The Rebels' senior running back is the fourth-leading rusher in the Mountain West Conference this season, averaging 80.8 yards per game behind a young, inexperienced line.
Williams has yet to eclipse the century mark -- though he did have 99 rushing yards against rival Nevada -- but he is averaging nearly four yards per carry.
You know how this all works.
Team gets behind, team abandons the run.
That has been a common theme in Arroyo's first year at the helm in Vegas.
Last fall, Williams the Rebels paid a visit to Laramie. The then-junior was the No. 1 ball carrier in the conference. He took just five handoffs that day for 17 yards. His outing was cut short when former UW defensive back Jordan Murry went low on Williams, launching him into the Cowboys' bench.
Williams, who has amassed 323 yards on 85 carries and has scored two touchdowns, is UNLV's consistency on offense. Stop him, you'll likely enjoy the results. Wyoming is allowing just 95.3 yards per game on the ground. That's good enough for 11th in the nation in that category.
Bring the heat
The Cowboys are preparing to see both Max Gilliam and Justin Rogers under center Friday afternoon for the Rebels. Kenyon Obland, who completed 16-of-31 passes for 176 yards and two interceptions in last season's 53-17 loss in Laramie, could see some action, too.
No matter who is slinging it for the Rebs, Wyoming's defense has to be licking its collective chops.
UNLV has given up 21 sacks in four games, including seven in a 34-17 setback two weeks ago at San Jose State.
Wyoming's defensive front is young. Without the services of pass rushers Garrett Crall (injury) and Solomon Byrd (opt out), the Cowboys have gotten to opposing quarterbacks 11 times through three games. That might look like an impressive number, and technically it ranks the Pokes ninth overall in the country, but Bohl and Co. expect more.
Plus, help could be on the way.
Crall, who has been making his way back from offseason foot surgery, started practicing this week. Bohl said Monday he doesn't know if the senior team captain will be "game ready" by Friday.
Getting behind early in game has been an issue for the Rebels. They have been outscored 95-39 in the first half through the first four games of 2020. UNLV has allowed at least 20 points in the first half in all of those outings.
That means less Williams and way more throwing.
In other words, defenses are focused on one task -- hammering the quarterback.
Speed to burn
Keyon Blankenbaker saw it on tape. So did Azizi Hearn.
The Rebels have serious speed on the outside at the wide receiver spot. Kyle Williams leads the way with a team-high 21 catches for 211 yards and a score. Tyleek Collins has snagged nine balls for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Noah Bean, one of the top tight ends in the conference, already has 14 grabs for 103 yards.
Yes, the Rebels abandon the run early. These guys reap the benefits.
"They're going to try and throw the ball," Hearn said. "They do a lot of inside breaking routes that I've seen on film."
"They have talent players. They are athletic," Blankenbaker added. "They have some speed on the outside. Their offense looks pretty solid."
Gilliam, a senior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., has by far been the Rebels top signal caller this season. He has thrown for 534 yards while completing nearly 61 percent of his passes. Gilliam has also tossed four touchdown passes, compared to just two interceptions.
He is also UNLV's second leading rusher, a fact not lost on Blankenbaker. Gilliam has racked up 128 yards on 39 attempts.
Gilliam is putting the ball in the air 25 times per outing. His best outing came against rival Nevada when he completed 27-of-40 passes for 207 yards and two scores.
He hasn't turned the ball over since Week 2.
CJ Coldon, Hearn, Blankenbaker and others will be tasked with slowing down a UNLV offense that averages 307.5 yards per outing, 178 of which comes through the air.
Hearn called the two-week layoff a blessing in disguise. Especially for an inexperienced group that has given up 262 yards through the air over the first three games.
The Cowboys have their own speed to burn in Vegas.
Here are UNLV's defensive rankings:
- Rushing defense - 208 yards per game (105th)
- Passing defense - 253 yards per game (85th)
- Scoring defense - 36.3 points per game (102nd)
- Total defense - 466 yards per game (107th)
You think Xazavian Valladay, Ayden Eberhardt, Levi Williams and others don't know those numbers?