UNLV might have found new life after coach John Robinson announced last week he was retiring at the end of the season. The Rebels scored a convincing 48-13 victory over their fiercest rival, University of Nevada-Reno, in their first win of the season last Saturday.
BYU and UNLV battled in an overtime thriller last season, which was tied 20-20 tie at the end of regulation. The Cougars scored a touchdown on their first possession of overtime and intercepted a desperation pass by Kurt Nantkes on fourth down to preserve the narrow victory. BYU coach Gary Crowton currently holds a 2-1 record against the Rebels.
The series between BYU and UNLV dates back to Dec. 2, 1978, when the two teams traveled to Yokohama, Japan, for the Yokohama Bowl. The Cougars won the inaugural game 28-24. Consequently, the Rebels and Cougars faced off four times between 1978 and 1982, with the Cougars winning three of the four games. They didn't meet again until UNLV joined the expanded WAC in 1996. From 1996 to 2001, the Cougars went 5-0 against the Rebels. Remarkably, BYU has won every game it has played against the Rebels in Las Vegas, but holds only a 3-2 advantage against UNLV in Provo. The Rebels won the last meeting in Provo, 24-3, on Oct. 19, 2002.
Friday’s game kicks off at 8 p.m. (MT) and will be televised nationally on ESPN2 as their featured Friday night game. KSL will carry the radio broadcast, which will also be webcast on the Internet at http://www.byucougars.com/football.
Despite Utah's proximity to Nevada, there is only one member of the Cougars' roster that hails from Nevada. Fullback Moa Peaua calls Reno home and prepped at McQueen High School. As a senior, he helped lead his team to an 11-0 record and a state championship. Following the season, he was named the Gatorade MVP for the state of Nevada.
Additionally, two members of BYU's team served LDS church missions in Las Vegas – linebackers Richard Nehiring and Washington State transfer Aaron Wagner. Furthermore, two Cougar coaches also have ties to the Rebels. Tight ends coach Mike Empey coached tight ends for the Rebels from 1997-98, and linebackers coach Barry Lamb served in that same capacity at UNLV from 1981-1986.
In the trenches, BYU's projected starting offensive line averages an enormous 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds. They will face a UNLV defensive line that averages 6-foot-3 and 297 pounds. Defensively, the Cougar defensive line that averages 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds will face a UNLV front five that average 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds.
After five games, BYU’s most feared wide receiver Todd Watkins is currently second in the MWC and ninth nationally in receiving yards per game, averaging 107.6 yards per contest. Through five games, Watkins, a junior, has amassed 538 yards. Comparatively speaking, last year's leader Toby Christensen only 547 yards in 12 games. Watkins has touchdown receptions of 69 and 79 yards and was mentioned as possibly the nation's best "deep threat" by Sports Illustrated magazine. Although he caught only four passes for 24 yards against Colorado State, his presence made it possible for Cougar running backs to rack up a season high 207 yards and three touchdowns.
On that other side, true freshman wide receiver Austin Collie has caught 24 passes on the season for an average of 12.2 yards per catch and three touchdowns. His three touchdown receptions have all been 40 yards or greater with a long of 57 coming against Boise State.
Meanwhile, five games into the season, BYU’s Ray Guy Award candidate, Matt Payne, has punted 33 times for 1,533 yards, including a 79-yarder against USC. He leads the MWC in punting and is third in the nation with a 46.45 yards-per-punt average. Payne is also wreaking havoc on punt and kick coverage, recording two-highlight reel-quality hits on Boise State punt returner Chris Carr as well as on an unsuspecting kick returner for Colorado State.
Payne is no slouch kicking field goals or extra points either. The Lou Groza Award candidate has scored a team-leading 32 points, including two field goals 52 yards or greater. He is a perfect 6-6 from 40-plus yards. Payne has hit all 11 of his extra points this season and seven of eight on field goals.
Offensively, BYU is currently seventh in the MWC and 80th in the nation in total offense, averaging 336.20 yards per game. Even after punishing the Colorado State defense with 207 yards rushing, the Cougars still rank next to last in the nation in rushing offense – averaging just 61.6 yards per game.
On a particularly bright note, BYU is currently one of the top passing teams in the nation, ranking third in the conference and 17th in the nation – amassing 274.6 yards per game. Against UNLV, the Cougars will face off against the MWC's fifth best defense. The Rebels rank third in the conference in pass defense (201 yards-per-game) and sixth against the run (181.4 yards-per-game).
On the defensive side, the Cougars' defense ranks sixth in the conference and 83rd in the nation, yielding 404 yards per game. After facing Boise State and Colorado State, who both rank among the top-10 nationally in passing offense, BYU is last in the MWC against the pass. The Cougars give up 293.4 yards per game through the air.
BYU has faired a little better against the rush, ranking second in the conference and 33rd in the nation – giving up 110.6 yards per game on the ground. Against UNLV, the Cougars face off against a balanced Rebel offense that ranks sixth in the conference in passing offense (169.6); fourth in rushing offense (167.8); and sixth in total offense. UNLV also boasts the conference's top rusher in Dominique Dorsey, who ranks 15th in the nation in rushing yards-per-game with an average of 112.4 yards per outing.