REBELS FOOTBALL:

Take Five: A closer look at UNLV vs. BYU

Two struggling Mountain West squads meet for potentially the last time before Cougars go independent

Image

AP PHOTO

BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps attempts a pass during the second half of the Cougars’ 31-16 loss at Utah State on Oct. 1. Heaps enters this weekend’s game against UNLV struggling, with only two touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season spent both as a starter and back-up.

UNLV vs. BYU

  • UNLV Rebels vs. BYU Cougars

  • Where: LaVell Edwards Stadium (64,045)

  • When: 11 a.m.

  • Coaches: Bobby Hauck is 1-7 in his first season at UNLV and 81-24 in eight overall seasons; Bronco Mendenhall is 52-20 in his sixth season at BYU, which is his first head coaching job

  • Series:BYU leads, 14-3.

  • Last time: BYU won, 59-21, on Oct. 10, 2009, in Las Vegas.

  • Line: BYU by 18.

  • TV/Radio:The Mtn./ESPN Radio 1100-AM

  • Rebel to watch: Against a struggling run defense a few weeks ago at Colorado State, freshman running back Tim Cornett had his best game yet as a Rebel. He now catches a break again, as BYU's front has been porous this fall. The one x-factor is that this is the first time the speedy Cornett will have played on a natural grass surface this season.

  • Cougar to watch: Many of the top weapons have graduated and moved on, but J.J. Di Luigi has been BYU's best all-around offensive threat this year. He's rushed for 601 yards and five scores on 112 carries, while leading the team in both receptions (33) and receiving yards (318). Expect him to be a major safety valve for struggling true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps.

Reader poll

How do you expect UNLV to fare at struggling BYU next Saturday?

View results

Given the combination of its health, youth and general struggles, opportunities for the UNLV football team to secure another win in the 2010 season are fleeting.

Not only, though, do the Rebels (1-7 overall, 1-3 Mountain West) have a shot to hang this weekend, but they could also win a game that, in many fans' eyes, would provide a highlight of sorts for the 2010 season.

UNLV will bus up to face BYU (3-5, 2-2) in an 11 a.m. Saturday matinee that is at this point merely a play-for-pride game for the Rebels, but means so much more for the Cougars.

With a season finale against red hot Utah looming for BYU, it's almost imperative that Bronco Mendenhall's club wins its next three games to secure bowl eligibility.

Added fuel for UNLV comes from the fact that not only has BYU become one of the school's top rivals in recent years, but it will likely be the last time they meet on the gridiron for quite some time, as the Cougars will test the independent waters beginning next fall.

Here now are five key story lines to be aware of heading onto Saturday's game:

1) A little bit of silver lining

This season, while posting an 0-4 record on the road, the Rebels' average margin of victory away from Sam Boyd Stadium is 30.8 points.

That's quite unsightly, but some silver lining is that UNLV has somewhat of a favorable history at BYU in terms of keeping things competitive.

The program is only 1-2 in its last three trips to Provo, but that stretch includes a 24-20 victory in 2004 and a 42-35 loss in 2008 in which the Rebels led in the closing minutes before quarterback Max Hall led a game-winning drive for the Cougars. In between those two was a 52-7 loss in 2006.

Meanwhile, for all of its struggles, BYU is playing well at home this year, going 3-1. Its one loss was a 27-13 setback to Nevada-Reno on Sept. 25, which was actually pretty commendable considering some of the numbers the Wolf Pack have put up on opposing scoreboards this season.

2) Equally struggling defenses

Out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, BYU's pass defense ranks 20th.

But on the flip side, opponents have not emphasized the pass against the Cougars all that much, as they, just like UNLV, have struggled mightily against the run.

The Rebels rank 118th in that category, and after graduating much of its front line talent a year ago, the Cougars check in at 95th, allowing an average of 190 yards per game. At a point earlier this season, BYU ranked 120th.

3) In need of firepower

It's not just the offenses that have struggled to get going, either.

BYU's offense has been nothing short of high-powered in recent years with stars like Hall, Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta and Harvey Unga at its disposal. But in the wake of that group, the Cougars have yet to score more than 25 points in a game this season.

As for the Rebels, outside of a 45-point outburst in their lone victory over New Mexico, they have yet to score more than 26 in a game and have been held to 10 or fewer points in five of their eight games.

BYU ranks 107th in the nation in total offense, while they actually are looking below at UNLV, who checks in at 117th.

It will all start with the quarterbacks, if either team is to bust out some in an ugly match-up.

Since replacing the injured Riley Nelson, highly-touted freshman Jake Heaps has taken the reins for BYU but is completing only 52.2 percent of his passes, with two touchdown tosses and seven interceptions to his credit.

Meanwhile, senior Omar Clayton will remain the starter for the Rebels, as the job is not yet being handed to redshirt freshman quarterback-of-the-future Caleb Herring.

Clayton is struggling, as he's only 97-of-174 this season for 1,069 yards, six TDs and four INTs. The numbers were expected to dip a bit, as he's learning a new offense and no longer flinging it around in the shotgun spread system.

Despite the more balanced offense, Clayton's past against BYU provides a glimmer of hope for the unit. In three career games against the Cougars, including two starts, he's 51-of-73 for 617 yards, three scores and three picks.

4) Stars aligned for Cornett

Junior Deante' Purvis and redshirt freshman Bradley Randle are both listed as doubtful while junior C.J. Cox is definitely out. That just means more carries for true freshman Tim Cornett, who through eight games is the team's leading rusher with 263 yards on 56 carries (4.7 per attempt).

In his three career starts, he's faced two of the toughest run defenses in the country — West Virginia and TCU.

In the other nod, though, he ripped up a struggling Colorado State front for 74 yards and a score on 17 carries.

Given BYU's trouble against the run and UNLV coach Bobby Hauck's consistency in terms of trying to get the ground attack established, Cornett could have a shot at his first career 100-yard game in Provo.

5) Catch it while it's hot

It was alluded to earlier, but UNLV is sorely wanting an opportunity to finish a game on top at least once more in 2010, and chances to do so are fading.

After this weekend, the Rebels only have one game left against a team with a losing record, and that's next Saturday at home against Wyoming.

Hauck has been a realist all along, and at this point in a long season, his players have to be approaching things the same way. That said, they probably realize that a win in Provo could be huge moving forward, even if the Cougars are down a bit this year.

Still, a 30.8-point average margin of defeat on the road is a lot to overcome.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 5 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy.

  1. Hey Rebels, we went to Provo in 1981. BYU was ranked 8th in the country and it was their homecoming. No one gave us a chance. We were down 17 at half time but we felt good about our chances. The spirit was high and we went out and beat them. Not only did we beat them but we knocked out their great quarterback-Jim McMahon, and beat up on another great quarterback you may have also heard of-Steve Young! BELEIVE!

  2. Good memory rebelheart. Plus, it makes my day anytime we beat BYU in anything. Go Rebels! Let's play a complete game. Don't really need any more reason to get up for a game, other than it's against BYU.

  3. While the little city up north is obsessed with the UNLV-UNR rivalry, I think a lot of Rebel fans, including myself, would rather beat BYU every year. Unfortunately, with BYU leaving the conference, this might be the last game we get against them for awhile. I hope we put up a fight.

  4. ..put up a fight?.. I hope we punch them in the mouth.

  5. Send them away with a nice parting gift rebels.