Air Force (1-1) at UNLV (0-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 22, 10:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sam Boyd Stadium (36,800) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: Altitude. Home Record: Air Force 1-0, UNLV 0-3. Away Record: Air Force 0-1, UNLV 0-0. Neutral Record: Air Force 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Conference Record: Air Force 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Series Record: Air Force leads, 13-4.
GAME NOTES: The last of four straight home games to kick off the season for UNLV takes place on Saturday night, as the Rebels host the Air Force Falcons in the Mountain West Conference opener for both programs at Sam Boyd Stadium.
One would have thought that the residency in the desert for the Rebels would have given them an advantage in at least one game thus far, but the truth is the team has fallen to 0-3 and is riding an eight-game slide overall, which is the second-longest in the nation entering this week. If UNLV thought that hitting the road would be a better prospect, the squad has dropped 16 in a row away from home so it doesn't appear as though there is any safe place for the Rebels at the moment.
Last week, UNLV hosted Washington State and came up short in a 35-27 final. The team has played close each time out, losing by a combined 14 points in three games, but a moral victory doesn't count for much these days.
As for the Falcons, they enjoyed an early break in the schedule last weekend after opening the campaign with a split. The team swamped Idaho State in a 49-21 season-opening win, but then took a tumble versus Michigan on the road, 31-25, back on Sept. 8 before the bye week.
Air Force, which is 6-0 on the road in MWC openers and 11-2 in MWC openers overall, owns a 13-4 edge in the all-time series with UNLV, thanks in part to a 45-17 blowout victory in last year's meeting.
Despite playing in front of more than 112,000 in the Big House two weeks ago, the Falcons more than held their own and nearly came away with the upset win versus the nationally-ranked Wolverines. Cody Getz was a huge factor for the visitors as he gained 130 yards and scored three times on 26 carries, while Connor Dietz was able to complete 10-of-19 passes for another 127 yards in order to keep the Michigan defense off balance.
Like most opponents who face off against Michigan, the Academy had trouble slowing down Denard Robinson who ran for 218 yards and two TDs and also passed for 208 yards and a couple of scores. Alex Means finished second on the Falcons in total tackles with seven and prevented even more damage as he broke up three passes in the close call.
It has been only two games for the Falcons, but already there are signs that the pass defense isn't nearly as strong as it could be, giving up 286.5 ypg which is eighth in the MWC and 103rd in the country entering play this week. For the time being, the run defense appears much more staunch, compared to last year when it finished 109th in the nation with 219.7 ypg allowed.
The transition to a new quarterback will take some time for the Falcons, but still the goal of the offense will be to run the ball at every opportunity. The squad has made that more than evident in the first two games with 387.0 ypg which is easily the top mark in the country.
For the second straight game, the Rebels produced more than 425 yards of total offense, finishing with 460, yet the team still couldn't get over the hump as it bowed to WSU last Friday night. Quarterback Nick Sherry converted 33-of-49 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns, shaking off an interception and a couple of sacks. Marcus Sullivan, who entered the game with just 175 career receiving yards, tallied 136 yards and two TDs on six catches in the losing cause.
The run defense for the Rebels limited Washington State to just 83 yards and a score on 21 attempts, which means it was the pass defense that was beaten up so badly as it permitted 378 yards and four touchdowns. Granted, the Rebels did record a couple of sacks and two interceptions, but clearly the Cougars had their way when putting the ball in the air.
Even though UNLV is still winless at this point, the team has seemingly made some positive strides in terms of defense from last year. In 2011, the Rebels were the team that every school wanted to play as they gave up a whopping 40.4 ppg, ranking them 118th in the nation. Thus far in 2012, the numbers are a bit more manageable with 27.3 ppg permitted, but the squad still has to battle through the likes of Louisiana Tech (112 points in two games), Nevada and Boise State which have all shown that they can put together an offensive plan that rival the big boys in the BCS conferences.
Running the ball on offense is something the Rebels can get a handle on, as long as Tim Cornett has a chance to earn some significant carries. Last week he gained just 89 yards on 20 attempts, while the two previous games saw a combined 273 yards and three TDs, so the potential is certainly there.
As always, expect the Falcons to grind out one play after another on the ground, keeping the ball to themselves and preventing the UNLV offense from getting onto the field. However, Air Force has to be careful not to allow Sherry to get comfortable in the pocket because then the hosts could pose a real threat.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Air Force 35, UNLV 21
09/19 10:34:23 ET