UNLV: The Rebels will start redshirt freshman Travis Dixon (6-1, 190) who presents a dual-threat to the Cougar defense, as he's proven to be a very good runner so far this season. Through six games, Dixon has accounted for over 1,200 yards through the air and 259 yards on the ground.
Dixon is a unique threat who could cause the Cougar defense some headaches with his dual-threat attack when dropping back to pass. Despite that, Dixon doesn't have much of an arm and has struggled getting the ball downfield or over the top of opponents' coverages.
BYU: Max Hall is coming off of a game where he struggled somewhat against a very unbalanced and unpredictable New Mexico defense. Hall is also coming off of a bye week and should be looking to settle back in and improve on what he showed two weeks ago against the Lobos.
Conclusion: Both quarterbacks are inexperienced, but both have shown a lot of early promise. While Dixon's numbers aren't bad, they're dwarfed by those put up by Hall so far this season.
UNLV: The Rebels will present one of the better backs in the conference with junior Frank Summers (5-10, 240) getting the bulk of the work out of the backfield. Summers has run for 518 yards and five touchdowns, and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry so far this season.
Summers presents another big and bruising running style much like that of Rodney Ferguson, who the Cougars struggled with against New Mexico. Summers has a better burst through the middle and is a bit quicker than Ferguson, while Ferguson probably gets the edge in reading his blocks and getting through holes.
BYU: The Cougars will again miss Fui Vakapuna as he recovers from his broken hand. In his stead, Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga will combine for the running back duties. Unga and Tonga have combined for about 500 yards through five games this season and have both been prolific catching the ball out of the backfield.
Conclusion: Summers has been a force, but has lacked the production of both Unga and Tonga catching the ball so far this season. Unga's and Tonga's combined effort through the ground and air gives them the edge here at the running back position.
UNLV: The Rebels use four receivers in their base set, with Casey Flair (6-1, 190 Jr.), Aaron Straiten (6-2, 195 Sr.) and Ryan Wolfe (6-2, 205 So.) being their main receivers. Each has been very productive so far, with Wolfe leading the team with 36 receptions. He also has one touchdown reception thus far.
BYU: Austin Collie needed the bye week as much as anyone to allow his ankle sprain to heal up some before taking the field again. The Cougars, like the Rebels, have three main receivers in Collie, Michael Reed and Matt Allen all seeing time in the regular rotation.
Conclusion: The three Rebel receivers listed above have combined for 75 catches, while their three Cougar counterparts have combined for 54 grabs in one less game. The Cougar wideouts have proven much more apt at getting the ball into the endzone, however, with seven total touchdowns to only two for the three main wideouts of UNLV.
UNLV: The Rebels do not use a tight end in their base spread formation, but they have been used on occasion during short-yardage situations. UNLV's two main tight ends have only four catches between them so far this season.
BYU: The Cougar tight ends are obviously a chief feature in what BYU does offensively. Dennis Pitta has begun to separate himself as a real force in the offense and has risen to become the leading Cougar receiver with 24 catches and three touchdowns through five games.
UNLV: The Rebels start a much better offensive line than they have in recent years. They've been able to mount good offensive production, while allowing 10 sacks through six games this season. They're big up front, with an average weight of 309 pounds.
BYU: Fans are still waiting for the expected dominance of the Cougar offensive front. Could it come this week? A bye week should have benefited them a lot and I still really like the prospects of this position group, although they have disappointed so far this season.
Conclusion: While the Cougar offensive front has been able to mount more offensive production, they haven't been as sharp as the UNLV offensive line in the area of allowing sacks and committing penalties, which makes it hard to give BYU the advantage until they fix those problems. Hard as it may be, BYU's offensive line should prove to have an edge in overall production over the Rebel offensive front tomorrow.
UNLV: The Rebels use a base 4-2-5 defensive system with junior Jeremy Geathers (6-2, 245) leading the group up front from the right end position. The Rebel defensive front has allowed just over 150 yards per game on the ground so far this season.
BYU: The Cougar defensive front has been quietly solid throughout the year, with the fretful nose tackle position problem being resolved nicely by the combined work of Eathyn Manumaleuna and Rick Wolfley. BYU has allowed just less than 100 yards per game on the ground so far this season.
Conclusion: Defending the run is first and foremost in any defensive system's goals. The Cougar defensive front has done this better than the Rebels have thus far this year.
UNLV: The Rebels feature Beau Bell (6-3, 245 Sr.), who is considered by many to be the best linebacker in the Mountain West conference. Bell is all over the field and will be the primary playmaker for the Rebel defense this Saturday.
BYU: Senior Bryan Kehl obviously presents the best argument against Bell being considered the best linebacker in the conference. It should be fun to watch Kehl and Bell compete on the field and to see who makes the bigger impact in the game.
Conclusion: Regardless of who is better between Kehl and Bell, the Cougars feature much more than Kehl, with players like David Nixon, Kelly Poppinga, Markell Staffieri and Shawn Doman each having productive years.
UNLV: Secondary only to Bell is Starr Fuimaono (5-11, 190 So.), who plays the so-called ‘Rebel' position and is utilized primarily for run-support. In addition to Fuimaono, the Rebel secondary features two seniors, another sophomore and a freshman.
BYU: The Cougar secondary is doing their collective best to prove that the Tulsa game was very much an aberration and certainly not the rule regarding their ability to defend the pass. They have in fact proved to be solid save for that one hiccup this season, and should be expected to prove solid from here on out.
Conclusion: UNLV has been somewhat stingy in allowing yards through the air, but hasn't faced very prolific passing attacks outside of Hawaii, which racked up 492 yards through the air against the Rebels, showing that they can be exploited.
1. Collie will have a big impact
Austin Collie, as mentioned, has benefited from the bye week perhaps more than anyone, as it has helped him recover from his nagging injury. UNLV has undoubtedly watched film of Dennis Pitta emerging as a top option on Hall's passing tree. The Rebels will be sure to account for Pitta on most plays, which should open things up considerably for Collie on the edge of the coverages.
2. Tackling will be key
The similarities between the UNLV and New Mexico offenses are striking. Having come off of a game against New Mexico, the Cougar defense should be well-prepared this week against the Rebels. BYU's tackling in the New Mexico game, and specifically the tackling of Ferguson, was disappointing and will have to be improved this week as Summers looks to roll and fall forward throughout the game. The Cougar linebackers will have to make sure to push him back.
3. Containing Wolfe
Ryan Wolfe is emerging as perhaps the best receiver in the Mountain West Conference. The Cougar defense will have to account for him on every play, as he's proven to be Dixon's chief target. Since the implementation of the 3-4 system, the Cougar secondary has a history of shutting down the opposing team's leading receiver. Look for them to continue doing so by limiting Wolfe's production.
Hopefully stupid penalties will not need to be addressed again this season. The stupid penalties have come far too often this year, but the team has improved over the last two games in this regard. Penalties on the road can kill a team and hopefully that will not happen against UNLV.
5. Limiting Turnovers
One could very well make the argument that pick-sixes have led to the Cougarss two losses as much as anything else. Interceptions returned for touchdowns and fumbles caused by ineffective pass-blocking (primarily on the edges) have done in this Cougar team as much as any other factor so far this season. Limiting turnovers is perhaps the most important thing for the Cougars to accomplish against UNLV.
Final Score: BYU 38, UNLV 20