The Rebels are coming off a game last week that saw them give up 346 yards on the ground against Air Force. UNLV's defense hasn't held a single opponent to less than 100 yards all season, and gives up an average of 232 yards on the ground per game.
To say that UNLV has struggled with defending the run would be an understatement, as in-state foe Nevada-Reno romped for 444 yards on the ground against the Rebels earlier this month. The Rebels operate from a 4-3 base defense that actually poses a lot of size in their front four.
The BYU running game meanwhile has been somewhat quiet here of late, as offensive coordinator Robert Anae abandoned the run game early on against TCU once the Cougars fell behind early in the game. UNLV sure looks ripe for the picking, and Harvey Unga could have a monster game come this Saturday.
Prognosis: While UNLV has stopped no one on the ground so far this year, they do seem more apt at defending a straight-ahead physical-type running attack as opposed to wide open running attacks that focus on beating them on the edges. UNLV has been woeful in flat pursuit and in containment, but could fare better against a BYU run attack that focuses on pounding the ball up the middle of a defense.
Regardless of where UNLV's strengths or, better-stated, their lesser weaknesses lay in defending the run, BYU should see some success in keeping the ball on the ground. After last week's performance, look for the Cougar coaching staff to commit to the run in order to open up the passing game.
What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching Harvey Unga's touches. Last week against TCU I didn't feel that he was used enough in both the ground game and passing game, and this is a game in which Unga could have a huge day. I'll be watching to see how much of a factor he is during the course of the game, as Unga is a player who should be seeing at least 20 touches per game.
BYU passing attack vs. UNLV
UNLV has been far more successful in defending the pass, as the Rebels only give up 206 yards through the air per game. A lot of this may be simply because teams haven't had to throw on the Rebels due to their success with running the ball on them.
In their secondary the Rebels start a senior, two juniors and a sophomore that haven't really been tested as of yet, but they did show well against Arizona State earlier this year. Their pass rush will be led by senior defensive end Thor Pili.
It is no secret that the BYU passing attack has been sputtering here of late, and playing UNLV at home may be just what they need to cure their passing troubles. While the staple of UNLV's pass coverage is to mix it up, previous teams have done well at mixing up their standard coverages, so Max Hall and company should be very well prepped and raring to go leading up to this week's game.
Prognosis: All signs point to much more focus on running the football, as mentioned earlier, and on spreading the ball around more. A successful and refocused running game should open things up for the BYU passing attack, and look for Hall to have his best game since UCLA.
What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching for how much Hall spreads the ball around and how much misdirection and play action are used in an attempt to slow down pass rushes. I'll also be watching to see how much Unga is used on the passing tree, as his ability to catch the ball has been underutilized here of late.
BYU run defense vs. UNLV
The Rebels can be punishing in their running attack up the middle with Frank Summers leading the charge. Summers averages 4.6 yards per carry in an offense that averages 140 yards rushing per game. Yes, UNLV also poses yet another running threat from the quarterback position in Omar Clayton, who has caused problems for opposing defenses.
After struggling to stop the Horned Frogs from doing almost anything and everything they wanted to on the ground and through the air, the Cougars look to rebound against UNLV. It won't be easy, as nose tackle Russell Tialavea's availability for the game is very much in question.
Prognosis: The Cougars could be in trouble on this front come Saturday. Should Tialavea not be ready to go, that potential trouble looms ever larger. The onus will be on the inside linebackers, who got pushed around against a physical TCU running attack. Look for UNLV to make their yards on the ground while the Cougars try to limit their big plays.
What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching to see who mans the nose tackle position primarily and who proves most effective. Should Tialavea be able to go, there is a lot of question with regards to how effective he'll prove to be. Defensive Line coach Steve Kaufusi will be using everyone from Rick Wolfley, recently returned Mosese Foketi and Ian Dulan at nose tackle to slow down the Rebels.
I'll also be looking to see if the inside linebackers prove more apt to stuff the run than they were a week ago against the Horned Frogs. This group needs to play much more physical than they have in order to limit UNLV's production on the ground.
BYU pass defense vs. UNLV
The Rebels have some dangerous options at receiver in both Ryan Wolfe and Casey Flair. Both players are big receivers that can beat a defense from anywhere on the field and with a variety of patterns. Wolfe in particular can wreak havoc on a defense across the middle. The Rebels average a pedestrian 226 yards through the air per game, but do have some tools to give the Cougars some problems through the air.
The Cougars had been good against the pass leading up to the TCU game, but then got a lot of holes in coverage exposed through the course of that game. UNLV has one of the better passing games BYU will have faced so far, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to a team with some good weapons at receiver.
Prognosis: Look for the Cougar pass defense to be much better this week, as they've worked hard all week to fix those holes in coverage that TCU exposed. Brandon Howard had a very good week of practice after getting picked on time and again on third down, and look for him in particular to improve upon his outing from a week ago.
What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching the substitutions. Scott Johnson is expected to play, but may prove ineffective, as he's battling through a leg injury. Brandon Bradley should be seeing more playing time as a result. Coaches yanked both David Tafuna and Brandon Howard during last week's game in favor of Andrew Rich and Bradley, respectively, and should there be any missed assignments again this week, I'll be watching to see who subs in and out of the Cougar secondary.
In conclusion, I feel that BYU's offense will rebound nicely and have a big game. UNLV doesn't present a lot of problems defensively, and now that the Cougar offense is back at home and is refocused, it should resemble its early-season form. Meanwhile, UNLV presents enough headaches offensively to give the Cougar defense some trouble.
Final Score Prediction: BYU 45, UNLV 20