UNLV (2-8) at BYU (5-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 15, 7 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,725) -- Provo, Utah. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: UNLV 2-3, BYU 2-2. Away Record: UNLV 0-5, BYU 3-2. Neutral Record: UNLV 0-0, BYU 0-0. Conference Record: UNLV 1-5, BYU 0-0. Series Record: BYU leads, 15-3.
GAME NOTES: The BYU Cougars face a former league foe as they entertain the UNLV Rebels in non-conference play this Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Cougars have gone from being nationally ranked with a Heisman Trophy candidate at the helm of the offense, to a squad that is now just one game over .500 as it prepares for the arrival of UNLV. BYU won the first four games of the season before dropping four in a row against some formidable competition. The squad was able to end the slide with a 27-7 victory against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 1, and was allowed to spend last week preparing and healing some wounds in anticipation of this meeting.
As for the Rebels, a team which made it to the postseason in 2013, there will be no chance for them to make it beyond the end of this month when it takes on Nevada in the annual Battle for the Fremont Cannon. UNLV has won just two of 10 outings, one of those coming in overtime (Fresno State, 30-27) and the other a single-point triumph versus Northern Colorado (13-12) the first week of September.
Last weekend, the Rebels saw their current losing streak stretched to three in a row as they were blown away by Air Force at home, 48-21.
BYU has won all but three of the previous 18 meetings between the former league foes, including a 55-7 thumping of the Rebels in the most recent clash back in 2010.
Quarterback Blake Decker scored the first points of the day for the Rebels in their fight against Air Force, but from there the Falcons took over, eventually sending Decker to the bench with a hip injury that leaves him questionable for this coming weekend. Decker was sacked five times as he converted 18-of-32 passes for 263 yards and a score.
Devante Davis caught that lone TD strike as he finished with six catches for a game-high 114 yards. Backup quarterback Jared Lebowitz did little to keep the Rebels competitive as he connected on only three of his 12 passes for a mere 18 yards in total.
The UNLV defense was bruised quite a bit as it endured an incredible 78 running plays from Air Force, resulting in 386 yards and five touchdowns. The hosts allowed scores on the first five Air Force drives.
Defense has not been a strong suit for the Rebels at all in 2014, the team currently ranking 123rd in the nation with a staggering 279.7 ypg allowed on the ground. The secondary has been a bit better (225.4 ypg), but that may have more to do with opponents finding it rather easy to chew up yards on the ground than anything else.
With Decker potentially out of the picture this weekend, there's no telling how and where the Rebels might generate offense, especially since they are 104th nationally with a mere 122.4 ypg running the ball. The passing offense has been more productive (255.4 ypg), but that's only because Decker has been a functional option to this point.
Dealing with an injured quarterback is something the Cougars know all too well these days after losing Taysom Hill with a broken leg earlier last month. Stepping in for Hill is Christian Stewart, who is converting 57.5 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Stewart also has a pair of rushing touchdowns on 49 carries, but he is nowhere near the threat that Hill was, as the latter accounted for 463 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns.
Having to do the majority of his damage with his arm, Stewart's main target should remain Mitch Mathews, who leads the program with 53 catches, 571 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Also getting in on the act is Jordan Leslie with 41 grabs for 497 yards and a couple of scores.
Unfortunately, the rushing attack has not only lost Hill but also lead back Jamaal Williams (515 yards, four TDs) to a season-ending knee injury, which means the Cougars are going to have to dig even deeper for production in that department.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are concerns there as well with linebacker Alani Fua (three sacks, 30 tackles) in jeopardy of missing the meeting with UNLV due to an ankle issue. However, Bronson Kaufusi appears to be good to go after he missed a few outings and is ready to continue building on his team highs of 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, their secondary has become rather suspect this season with 284.8 ypg allowed, a number that places the group 113th in the nation entering play this week. The run defense has been much more staunch (112.8 ypg), but in all the unit is still permitting 27.2 ppg which is a bit lofty for a Bronco Mendenhall coached squad.
Even with all that has gone on to shred the BYU depth chart, the Cougars still have a wealth of talent that they can rely on this weekend. It also helps BYU that the Rebels might be without their starting quarterback as well.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 31, UNLV 17
11/12 10:41:17 ET