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Take Five: A closer look at UNLV vs. Wyoming

It’s a classic ‘somebody-has-to-win’ situation as two struggling teams meet at Sam Boyd Stadium

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Aaron Ontiveroz / Associated Press

Wyoming quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels (5) throws a pass during the second half of Wyoming’s 30-27 win over UNLV on Saturday in Laramie, Wyo. on Sept. 26, 2009.

UNLV vs. Wyoming

  • UNLV Rebels (1-8 overall, 1-4 MWC) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (2-8 overall, 0-6 MWC)

  • Where: Sam Boyd Stadium (36,800)

  • When: 7:00 p.m.

  • Coaches: Bobby Hauck is 1-8 in his first season at UNLV and 81-25 in eight overall seasons; Dave Christensen is 9-14 in his two seasons at Wyoming, which is his first head coaching job.

  • Series:Tied, 9-9

  • Last time: Wyoming won, 30-27, on Sept. 26, 2009, in Laramie, Wyo.

  • Line: Wyoming by 5.

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

  • Rebel to watch: Senior defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui is getting stronger as the season wears on, and he will have the lead the effort if UNLV's defense is to put up a better fight in game No. 10. He has 21 tackles, three for loss and 1.5 sacks on the year.

  • Cowboy to watch: Despite a periodic sophomore slump, quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels has been a steady play-maker for Wyoming this season. Last year, in his first career start, he burned the Rebels for 234 yards through the air and three touchdowns.

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In its most evenly-matched game remaining on the schedule, how do you expect UNLV to fare next Saturday at home against Wyoming?

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Not much was expected from the UNLV football program in 2010 in terms of wins and losses under first-year coach Bobby Hauck.

The same wasn't the case entering the fall for Wyoming.

Last season, with former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen taking over the reins in Laramie, Wyo., the Cowboys went a surprising 7-6, including a thrilling victory over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl.

It was a wild turnaround for a program that had gradually seemed to regress under former coach Joe Glenn.

Move forward to the season's tail end, and both UNLV and Wyoming come into Saturday's 7 p.m. tilt at Sam Boyd Stadium in the same boat as cellar-dwellers in the Mountain West Conference.

Here is a closer look at a game that, as the saying goes, someone has to win.

1) He's still got it

You can't call it a full-blown sophomore slump for Wyoming quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, but he's been much more inconsistent in 2010 than he was through a magical late stretch in 2009.

The San Jose native is completing 59.6 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions to his credit.

The seven picks in nine games is a worse ratio than the five he threw in 13 games as a freshman.

Still, while he's not strong week-to-week, Carta-Samuels has proven on several occasions to be just as dangerous a play-maker with both his arm and legs as he was a year ago.

Don't forget, last season's 30-27 Wyoming triumph over UNLV was his first career start, in which he threw for 234 yards, three TDs and no INTs.

2) A tough cover

UNLV is banged up across the board physically, but it may not be more apparent anywhere more than in the secondary.

Of the 26 names listed on this week's injury report, eight are defensive backs. None of those eight are listed as anything better than questionable.

That leaves a depleted unit to cover arguably one of the toughest receivers to match up with in the Mountain West in David Leonard.

As a junior last season, he thrived in the new wide open offensive scheme, catching 77 passes for 705 yards.

His numbers are down a bit as a senior, with only 36 grabs for 382 yards and three scores in 10 games.

Still, at a well-built 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, expect him to get plenty of looks over the top of the Rebels' smaller corners. In two career games against UNLV, Leonard's had strong success with nine catches for 134 yards and two scores.

3) Opportunity at hand

At this point, a 1-12 finish to the season is looking like a very strong possibility for UNLV.

As harsh of a reality as it may be to face, this is the Rebels' most winnable game remaining on the schedule.

After this weekend, the Rebels have three more games to go, and all of them are against teams that will be playing in bowl games come the holiday season.

They'll host Air Force next Thursday, play at San Diego State on Nov. 27 and at Hawaii on Dec. 4. Their combined record? 20-9.

If you're looking for a bit of silver lining with UNLV's chances against Wyoming, it's that the Rebels have won four of the last five meetings between the two in Las Vegas.

4) Fighting off embarrassment

Neither of these teams still have a shot at a bowl game this season. Those birds flew out the window weeks ago.

But this could be a great look at which of the struggling squads is playing with more pride down the season's stretch run.

UNLV is coming off of a brutal 55-7 loss at BYU in which the Rebels' defense was unable to put up much of a fight after the game's first five minutes. The Cougars may have put a charge into their dormant season by scoring more than 25 points for the first time all season. They reached that mark just over five minutes into the second quarter.

As embarrassing as the trip to Provo may have been for the Rebels, Wyoming suffered maybe the weekend's most humiliating loss, falling 34-31 on the road to previously winless New Mexico.

In the defeat, the Cowboys allowed 430 yards of total offense to the Lobos and turned the ball over four times, including a trio of fumbles.

Who has anything left in the tank emotionally? We'll sure find out first-hand.

5) Statistically speaking

Offensively, either both teams will bust out from season-long slumps, or this is going to be purely ugly.

Out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, Wyoming ranks 117th in total offense, averaging 267.4 yards per game. UNLV checks in at 119th, totaling 258.1 yards an outing.

The trend would say lean toward this being a bit of a shoot-out, because it's easier to bust out from an offensive slump than a defensive skid. And both teams are definitely sliding defensively. Wyoming is 110th in the nation in total defense, while UNLV isn't much better at 104th. Each team is giving up right around 440 yards per game.

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  1. Man we are aweful... 119 out of 120? Who is worse, Alaska school of plumbing? How did things get this bad.

  2. @ brian, New Mexico. LOL

  3. @ Brian - I live in Wyoming and I can relate to your disappointment in the Rebels. We have lived in that world for a LONG time. If the Pokes pull this one out I will be surprised. This could be an entertaining game. It will either stink on ice or be an all out track meet!

  4. The current Wyoming coach replaced Joe Glenn, who was previously the head coach at Montana. When Joe Glenn left Montana to go to Wyoming, Bobby Hauck replaced Joe Glenn.

    Glenn won a national championship at Montana, and -- like Hauck -- was extremely successful at Montana. When Glenn moved up (to Wyoming), he was a dismal failure, and was ultimately fired.

    Montana has had several successful head football coaches, but there has never been a head football coach who left Montana and was successful at the next level.