UNLV running back Charles Williams (8) carries the ball as Utah State defensive end Devon Anderson (91) reaches for him during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)UNLV Rebels running back Lexington Thomas (3) drops a pass in the first quarter against New Mexico Lobos at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal wide receiver Mekhi Stevenson (2) drops a pass as Utah State safety Aaron Wade (4) and cornerback Ja‘Marcus Ingram defend during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)Utah State defensive end Devon Anderson (91) tries to sack Air Force quarterback Isaiah Sanders (4) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)Air Force quarterback Isaiah Sanders (4) gains yards as he is brought down by Navy cornerback Jarid Ryan (2) during an NCAA college football game at Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Dougal Brownlie,/The Gazette via AP)Air Force quarterback Isaiah Sanders (4) is brought down by Navy cornerback Khaylan Williams (7) during an NCAA college football game at Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Dougal Brownlie,/The Gazette via AP)Air Force quarterback Isaiah Sanders (4) stiff-arms Navy cornerback Khaylan Williams (7) during an NCAA college football game at Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Saturday Oct. 6, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Dougal Brownlie,/The Gazette via AP)
With UNLV’s season slipping away as well as its bowl hopes, the Rebels have a major opportunity Friday.
If the Rebels, who are 10-point underdogs, beat Air Force at Sam Boyd Stadium, they will put life back into their season and bring back postseason talk. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
That’s because UNLV (2-4, 0-2 Mountain West) then would play a winnable game the following week at San Jose State with a chance to get to .500 before a challenging November schedule.
“We know what our goals are,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “We know what everybody wants us to do, and we want to do the same thing. Nobody wants it more than our guys. We all know what’s at stake. But if you look at the big picture, that’s too much. That’s not important right now. What’s important is us focusing on Air Force.
“We need to execute (the entire game plan) in order to beat Air Force. If we do that, then next week, the question will be, ‘Well, how important is this one?’ If you get that one, the question will be, ‘How important is this one?’ The more you win, the more important the games become.”
Should UNLV lose to Air Force (2-4, 0-3), the Rebels will face the dim prospects of possibly ending with three or four victories.
So plenty is on the line as the Rebels face a team that has lost three conference games by a total of 17 points. Air Force also blew out Navy 35-7.
But the Falcons have cycled through three quarterbacks. Isaiah Sanders is expected to start, and he leads a triple-option offense that averages 248 yards rushing. But Air Force’s per-rush average is just 3.9 yards, so if the Rebels can contain the Falcons’ running attack, they should have a chance to win.
UNLV also needs to re-establish its ground game, and having leading rusher Lexington Thomas (552 yards, 5.7 per carry) available is crucial. Saturday at Utah State and was cleared to play Wednesday.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he considers Thomas an NFL prospect.
“No question, absolutely,” Calhoun said. “In fact, there will be a number of guys that they have on their team that we’ll face on Friday night that will play in the NFL.”
UNLV, though, has rushed for 197 yards combined the past two games. The Rebels’ lowest output over the first four weeks was 308 yards .
The Rebels had Armani Rogers at quarterback for the first month before he Sept. 22 at Arkansas State. Rogers might not return for another month, and no longer having his ability to run (122 yards per game, 6.9 per rush) has crippled UNLV’s offense.
His replacement, Max Gilliam, has talent, as evidenced by the five touchdown passes he threw in the second halves of the past two games. But he still needs to show he can produce against a starting defense.
Maybe that will happen against Air Force and insert life back into the season.
“Some momentum will always be good,” Gilliam said. “We could definitely use some right now, but we’re still confident, and we still believe we can win every game, so that’s what we’re going to go out and do.”
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Who: Air Force at UNLV
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: Air Force -10; total 56½