The last time the Boise State football team played on the road, it did not go well, and UNLV would like to make Halloween a scary afternoon for the Broncos. Although they have a 2-5 season record, including a 31-28 loss last week to 2-6 Fresno State, UNLV would like to turn their program around Saturday afternoon against Boise State.
The hiring of long-time successful high school coach Tony Sanchez has the Rebel faithful excited. So does Utah State's 52-26 drubbing of the Broncos two weeks ago. Knowing that the Broncos are susceptible to allowing defenses in their backfield most of the night, a practice which led to eight turnovers in the loss to Utah State, the UNLV defense is licking its chops to get through the Boise State offensive line and grab some of those turnovers themselves.
Sanchez was hired last December in Las Vegas after spending six years guiding local high school Bishop Gorman to a record of 85-5 and six straight Nevada 4A championships and a top 25 national ranking each season. His 2014 squad went 15-0 and won the mythical national championship.
Boise State rebounded last week in a 34-14 win over Wyoming, and improved play by the Bronco line coupled with the return of running back Jeremy McNichols led to a more potent ground game. However, Mario Yakoo sat out that game and tackle Rees Odhiambo suffered a broken ankle in the final minutes of the Wyoming game, leaving yet more questions for the embattled Bronco unit.
Yakoo is listed as a starter this week on the Bronco depth chart, with Archie Lewis starting in Odhiambo's spot.
UNLV is outscoring the opposition by an average of 28.3 to 27.4, but an 80-8 whipping of Idaho State is a big contributor to those averages.
Quarterback Blake Decker, who is in 10th place on the school’s career passing list with 3,538 yards in just 18 appearances, is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing two-and-a-half games following an injury at Nevada. Decker, a junior college All-American at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, was named a Preseason Second Team quarterback in the Mountain West Conference by Lindy's magazine. Decker, who turned 25 years old in September, aims to teach the young whippersnappers at Boise State. When Decker graduated from high school in 2008, Bronco starting quarterback Brett Rypien was in the fifth grade.
Decker has completed 45-of-83 passes this season (54.2%) for 652 yards and five scores but he also has four interceptions on the year.
Devonte Boyd, who was fourth among freshmen last season with 65 catches for 980 yards (15.1 avg.) and four touchdowns, has continued to be the go-to guy for the Rebels with 21 receptions for 374 yards (17.8 avg.) and 8 scores this season. Boyd, who earned not only Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors but Freshman All-America honors as well last year. This season, the super sophomore is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
Senior Anthony Williams and sophomore Kendal Keys (6-4, 200) are the other wideouts, with talented senior end Jake Phillips (6-6, 250) presenting another big target for Decker. Phillips was one of 33 players named to the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top collegiate tight end.
Keith Whitely (5-9, 195, Jr.) is the leading Rebel ball carrier with 99 attempts for 471 yards. Fullback George Naufahu is a strong bowling-ball type runner with 28 carries for 170 yards (6.1 avg.). UNLV likes to go to him around the goal line and Naufahu has responded with three touchdowns.
(BroncoCountry video by Rod Couch)
Nine UNLV defenders have intercepted a pass this season, that number is among the highest in the nation. It's a solid secondary with cornerback Torry McTyer (6-0, 180, Jr.), free safety Blake Richmond (6-3, 205, Sr.) and strong safety Peni Vea (6-1, 205, Sr.) all posting at least four pass breakups this season.
Junior Ryan McAleenan (6-2, 220) leads the Rebel defense from his middle linebacker spot. McAleenan has 49 tackles, 3 for loss, with a sack and an interception that he returned for 52 yards. Tau Lotuelei (6-1, 230, Jr.), is the weak linebacker with 8.5 tackles-for-loss among his 42 stops this season.
UNLV senior Logan Yunker was one of 25 players named to the official watch list for the 2015 Ray Guy Award, which is given each year to college football’s best punter. Yunker averaged 40.5 yards last season and 30 of his punts landed inside the opponents' 20-yard line. This is the third straight season that Yunger has been on the Guy watch list.
After nine consecutive games, Boise State will finally earn a bye next week to heal the numerous injuries, but first, they have to get by UNLV. Kickoff is set for Saturday afternoon at 1:30 Mountain Time.