Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas will have a fork in the road when Utah State and UNLV go their separate ways after Saturday’s game.
One path, the one reserved for the winner, is for the team that continues to at least come close to its own season expectations.
The loser, however, will be on the fast track to a disappointing 2017 campaign.
“Next week becomes almost a must-win against UNLV,” said Utah State special teams standout D.J. Nelson, after the Aggies lost last week 28-23 to Wyoming.
After starting the season 3-2, Utah State is now under the .500 mark by losing two straight home contests (Colorado State, Wyoming). UNLV is in a similar predicament.
For “both of us, it’s pivotal for us to take that next step as the season goes on to pull out a victory,” Rebels coach Tony Sanchez said. “I think you’re going to see a real hard-fought game.
“They’re stinging off two losses in a row to two pretty good teams,” the UNLV coach added. “We’re stinging off two losses in a row to two pretty good teams [San Diego State, Air Force].”
Last Saturday, Nelson’s touchdown on a fake field goal gave Utah State a 23-16 lead early in the third quarter.
The Rebels’ advantage was a much wider bulge as UNLV led 27-0 late in the first half before Air Force stormed back for a 34-30 win.
“That’s an emotional roller coaster for a team to go through. To have that big of a lead, lose it and try to get it back,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
In UNLV freshman Armani Rogers, the Aggies will be facing another quarterback with size. Although he’s not as stout as Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Rogers (6-foot-5, 225 pound) will carry the ball more. He has tucked it under his arm 85 times for 550 rushing yards so far. Rogers also has 1,026 yards passing midway through the Rebs’ schedule.
“The QB is long and athletic and really talented,” Wells said. “I know you don’t want to let him get outside the pocket.”
Wells will have a choice to make with his own quarterbacks as game time approaches.
Senior Kent Myers started slow against Wyoming, and freshman Jordan Love, coming in for his usual second quarter appearance, ended up taking the snaps until well into the third period as the USU offense started to click.
But Myers was re-inserted for the rest of the game when Love through a pair of interceptions.
“Offensively, I thought we played well in the second quarter, and moved the ball. We kind of got some rhythm and excitement going,” Wells said. “Then, that was about it. We had a drive in the second half when Kent came back in, and that was it.”
And, when it counted most, the Aggies could not stop Allen and the Cowboys’ offense.
“I’m looking forward to that game on Saturday,” Wells said. “Hopefully, it’s a chance to get out and get this taste out of our mouth.”
Utah State at UNLV
At Sam Boyd Stadium
Kickoff • Saturday, 4 p.m. MDT
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • USU 3-4 (1-2 MWC); UNLV 2-4 (1-2)
Series history • USU leads, 15-7
Last meeting • USU 34, UNLV 20 (2014)
About the Rebels • The season started on a very rough note with a 43-40 loss to FCS opponent Howard University, a game that UNLV entered as a 45-point favorite. ... Running back Lexington Thomas has a 7.2 per-carry average in leading the team with 716 yards. ... Quarterback Armani Rogers became the third redshirt freshman in the last decade to start behind center in the season opener. ... Like Utah State’s sophomore linebacker from Payson, there’s a Dalton Baker on the Rebels’ roster. UNLV’s Baker has 29 solo tackles from a defensive back position and is a junior.
About the Aggies • Cornerback Jalen Davis is a first-team pick in Associated Press’ midseason All-America Team. The senior, who has five interceptions, running three back for TDs, has been bestowed with the same midseason status by Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports. ... Davis also leads the team in sacks with three overall. Junior linebacker Suli Tamaivena now has two after getting both in the loss to Wyoming last week. ... USU’s five turnovers against Wyoming — three interceptions and two fumbles — were the most for the team in one game since 2011.