Friday, Nov. 5, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
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.
- Despite struggles, BYU’s Heaps has UNLV’s full attention (11-2-2010)
- Box Score: TCU 48, UNLV 6
- UNLV pushed aside during No. 4 TCU’s BCS war path, 48-6 (10-31-2010)
- TCU immediately forgets about UNLV, looks to next week’s clash with Utah (10-31-2010)
- Notebook: Hauck still anti-playoff, but quite impressed with TCU (10-31-2010)
- Instant analysis: One bright spot in tough loss to TCU (10-30-2010)
- All Sun UNLV Football Coverage
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.
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 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.