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What you need to know: BYU vs UNLV preview

The Cougars are coming off a win against Middle Tennessee and are looking for bowl eligibility against the UNLV Rebels.

UNLV Blake Decker scores against Air Force
UNLV Blake Decker scores against Air Force
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The History

The BYU Cougars and UNLV Rebels have played 18 games in a series that started in 1978. The game in '78 was a neutral site game leaving the Cougars with nine home games and eight away in the series. In the away games, including the neutral site game, the Cougars are undefeated with a 9-0 record. At home they haven't done quite as well: 6-3, with two of the three losses coming in the Gary Crowton era.

Overall, BYU has dominated UNLV at a 15-3 series clip and the Cougars have more than doubled UNLV scoring with a 37 to 18 edge. The last game between the teams was in 2010 and the majority of the games were played when the two teams were in the Mountain West Conference. The last loss to the Rebels was in 2004, so Bronco Mendenhall has yet to lose to UNLV as the Cougars head coach.

Provo, Utah 2004 (20-24)

BYU outplayed UNLV on the stat sheet but the Cougars turned the ball over too many times in their last defeat at the hands of the Rebels. John Beck was quarterbacking the team in Crowton's last year as head coach and helped rack up 449 yards to 259 for UNLV. Beck set a MWC record at the time with 67 pass attempts, completing 34 for 358 yards. In addition to a touchdown he had one interception.

Five turnovers proved to be too much for the offense to overcome, yet they had a chance to win going into the fourth quarter down only one, 21-20. Twice in the fourth quarter the Cougars moved inside the Rebels twenty yard line, and both times they came away empty handed. The Cougars offense only managed one touchdown and two field goals. The defense added a touchdown on a Cameron Jensen pick-six.

Provo, Utah 2010 (55-7)

The last time the two teams played, the Cougars demolished the Rebels after gaining over 500 yards of offense and 55 points. Josh Quezada was the playmaker of the game, starting as a true freshman and endind with three touchdowns. Jake Heaps added 294 yards passing and two touchdowns. By halftime the Cougars were up 35-0. The Cougars' defense only allowed 73 yards of offense in the first half and started the game with an interception by Brian Logan.  For the game, the Rebels ended up with only 22 rushing yards and 122 passing. Their only points came with 41 seconds left in the 4th quarter on a 24 yard pass from the backup quarterback Caleb Herring.

The Outlook

After a road win at Middle Tennessee, the Cougars are looking to finalize their bowl trip to Miami with their sixth win of the year. Although many will dismiss the game against the Blue Raiders, it was significant to the team to get back into the win column. The defense played better than expected and the offense again put up over 400 yards. The fans' feelings of concern haven't been forgotten, but they were muted for a bit with a much needed win.

The Positives

The offense continues to improve as it passed for 316 yards and rushed for another 128. Committing no turnovers helped provide a spark to the defense that held Middle Tennessee to 228 yards. Not only did the defense hold the Blue Raiders to a low yardage total but they only allowed 3.7 yards per pass and 2.9 yards per rush. If the offense and defense can both stay on the same page, the Cougars should continue to create another win streak.

The Negatives

Injuries continue to pile up for the Cougars as they once again lost a big piece of their puzzle when Jamaal Williams went down for the year with a knee injury. The Cougars look to have a couple of players back in Algie Brown, Alani Fua, and Craig Bills, but it will be impossible to replace the talent and experience that the Cougars have lost throughout the year. Brown coming back will be a boost to the running backs as they play with a committee of Paul Lasike, Adam Hine, Nate Carter, and Brown.

The Match-ups

BYU Running Backs vs UNLV Defense:

Even though the Cougars will be rushing by committee, they should have a strong day on the ground. UNLV is 123rd of 125 schools in defending the rush as they give up almost 280 yards per game. BYU is averaging just over 183 yards a game on the ground. The different looks that are given by the various Cougar running backs should make them tough to defend and will allow big chunks to be gained when Lasike and company have the ball.

BYU Secondary vs Blake Decker

The Rebels passing attack is top 50 in the country with 255 yards per game and it is led by junior quarterback Blake Decker. Decker is only completing 59% of his passes but he is averaging over 7.5 yards per attempt. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns but has also tossed 14 interceptions in the process. BYU is still ranked below 100 in pass defense as they are giving up almost 285 yards per game, so the Cougars will have their hands full.

The Rebels have a stand out receiver in Devonte Boyd who has almost a quarter of the receptions for the team and over 751 receiving yards. However, the team has six players that have at least 200 yards receiving and five players with over at least 20 catches. If Decker is not cleared to play after the leg injury sustained against Air Force, expect the play calling to be simplified but the same system run with a quarterback that has 29 total pass attempts in Nick Sherry, who logged significant time two years ago as a freshman.

The Keys to Watch

When the Rebels have the ball:

Watch for the Rebels to air it out and really test the Cougars secondary. With a number of receivers that can catch the ball, the Cougars will need to pay close attention to not let anyone behind them. The Rebels don't have as strong of a running game but they will try to get Keith Whitely moving as he leads UNLV with 428 rushing yards. Decker is second on the team in rushing so the Cougars can't forget about him as they pressure him.

Watch for the Cougars to use a few more blitzes with some of their defensive leaders back. With Fua and Bills back, the Cougars will be apt to take a few more chances and put some heavy pressure on Decker. The defensive front and linebackers should make some plays in the back field and this may open up plays for the secondary, which they must take advantage of. Watch for the Cougars to focus on Boyd as they try to stop the passing game, not letting him be the x-factor in the game.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Look for the Cougars to run the ball early and often. The Cougars running backs will be able to run against the Rebels but they will need to make sure they hold onto the ball. Lasike should be able to use his size to drag a few defenders on the way to first downs and should be a good option in the redzone. Watch for Christian Stewart to continue to have success in the air but don't expect him to throw it 50 times as this game shouldn't come down to the quarterback. If the Cougars can get into 3rd and short opportunities, the UNLV defense will have a long day as they are ranked 101st in the country in third down defense.

Watch for the Rebels to do everything in their power to make the Cougars throw the ball. UNLV defends the pass much better than the run, but the Rebels don't make tackles in the backfield as they average less than two sacks per game. Stewart should have time to throw but UNLV will look to confuse him in the secondary and hide their coverage until the last moment. If the Rebels can make the Cougars one dimensional, and that dimension is not the run, UNLV will feel like it has a shot.

Interesting Tidbit

Up until the 1970's, the UNLV Rebels had a wolf dressed in a Confederate cap and jacket as their mascot. The school changed the mascot to a human, without the Confederate attire, due to a group of athletes that didn't feel right about playing for a school with a mascot that had a tie to the wrong side of the Civil War. UNLV originally chose the Confederate wolf because they were "rebelling" against the Wolf Pack of Nevada. For more history of UNLV click here.

Next Meeting

The next scheduled meeting between the schools is scheduled for November 14, 2015 in Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, NV.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 5:00 pm MDT

Where: Lavell Edwards Stadium-Provo, Utah


Internet: WatchESPN

Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here

Radio Links (UNLV): Click Here