LOGAN – Before the season, no one expected this week’s clash between Utah State and UNLV to be significant, but it turned out to be a big game for both sides. The Rebels are looking to confirm their strong start and the Aggies are in desperate need of a turnaround. In different ways, this week is a must for both sides, although it’s much more a must for the Aggies, whose season could spiral out of control with a second straight home loss.
USU head coach Blake Anderson has been a big critic of his own team over the past week, repeatedly speaking about his team’s shortcomings and his desire to improve them. On Monday he reiterated those points, saying the side had been “our own worst enemy” and had yet to play “our best ball”.
“We played extremely hard but didn’t play well. We need to bring those two things together,” Anderson said. “And at no better time than this Saturday.”
Here are the things you should know as the state of Utah tries to implement all of the improvements it worked on during bye week.
- Kicking off: 5 p.m. MT
- Location: Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium
- TV broadcast: CBS sports network
- Aggie GameDay Coverage on KVNU (102.1 FM/610 AM & KVNU mobile app) & Simulcast on 106.9 The FAN (106.9 FM/1390 AM & 106.9 The FAN mobile app): 3:30 p.m. MT on site at the Prodigy Brewery
- KVNU Aggie Call (102.1 FM/610 AM, KVNU Mobile App + 106.9 FM / 1390 AM The FAN, 106.9 The FAN Mobile App): Immediately after the game ends
UNLV in full swing
The Rebels’ start to the year looks very different to how seasons typically begin in Las Vegas. UNLV are starting the year 2-1, their best start since 2018 and only the second time since 2009 that the Rebels have started the season 2-1.
“UNLV is a much better football team than it was a year ago,” Anderson said Monday. “A completely different look than a year ago and they were a challenge to beat in their place last year.”
Utah State narrowly survived last year’s matchup with a UNLV roster that finished the season 2-10. The Aggies won thanks to an 11-yard touchdown run from Elelyon Noa with 43 seconds remaining in the game. This year the game will be played in Logan, which will bring some benefit, but an improved Rebels team is making the trip to even the odds.
In two of UNLV’s games, the Rebels had more than 50 points — a 52-21 win over FCS Idaho State and a 58-27 win over North Texas.
Bonner has been struggling with an injured knee on a “very short leash” this week
Following the loss of Weber State, a Bonner controversy exploded. Many were calling for the man who set the school record for passing yards last season to be benched directly in favor of Cooper Legas. Anderson went batting for Bonner in a big way, catching some weaknesses in the process.
A key point of conversation about Bonner was his recovery from his knee injury at the LA Bowl late last year. This recovery did not go smoothly. Bonner’s knee is physically as good as ever. But according to him, Bonner has yet to fully trust a knee he’s had to build almost from scratch in real time.
“He’s been open, he’s a little bit scared fighting with really trusting his body,” Anderson said.
While Anderson is still vouching for Bonner, he made it clear Monday there was no more time waiting for Bonner to get his mind over his knee. He will start this week, it could very well be his now-or-never point.
“He’s on a very short leash, he knows that,” Anderson said. “We can’t keep playing and guessing what the knee will and won’t do. He has to move the chains with his feet. He had a chance to do that last week and the week before and didn’t.
UNLV has a great QB and RB duo
As Utah State tries to solidify its quarterback position, the Rebels are very pleased with their performance in the QB. Doug Brumfield, a junior making his second attempt as a full-time starter (Brumfield started in two games early last year before suffering an injury in late September), is playing good ball in three games.
Brumfield has completed at least 77 percent of his passes in two of UNLV’s three games (yes, that correlates perfectly with the team’s two wins in three tries), leads the Mountain West in seven touchdown passes and has a 7-to-1 -Touchdown. -Monitoring ratio, by far the best in the conference.
“Brumfield is playing very well,” said Anderson, who noted the UNLV QB’s 70.6 percent completion rate, but also said that “the hidden message is how well he moves the chains with his feet. I don’t know what his stats were, but he moved the chains multiple times against North Texas.
Last week, Brumfield rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the Rebels’ win over North Texas.
At running back, UNLV has another solid back in Aidan Robbins. A year ago, the Aggies allowed Charles Williams for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Well, Robbins just rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns against the Mean Green.
USU without two starters after injuries
The Aggies suffered two big hits on the depth chart during bye week as two players were ruled out for the remainder of the year with knee injuries. Starting wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen and defensive tackle Phillip Paea are both unavailable as they undergo surgery and rehab for their injuries. Van Leeuwen is second on the team in receptions with eight for 88 yards and one touchdown. Paea was second among USU defenders in total snaps and had recorded two tackles that year as well as his first career interception against Weber State.
It will be a bit difficult to fill those two spots, but we’ve already seen the players who will take on that responsibility. Redshirt newcomer Seni Tuiaki has already been pushed into extra action with all those injuries on the defensive front and is leading the defensive line in absolute snaps. Sophomore Tavian Coleman played a career-high 56 snaps against Weber State, that number rising after Paea left the game. Bo Maile and Aurion Peoples are also shortlisted for fill-ins.
We’re very likely to see a lot more from Terrell Vaughn and NyNy Davis in the slot receiver spot. Vaughn’s kick return touchdown showcased his dynamic athleticism and the Aggies could certainly use that in the passing game. Davis also brings speed to the table, which could help USU broaden the field. Anderson also brought up Kyrese Rowan, a transfer from the University of Utah who was injured up to this point in the season.
For those hoping for more engagement from the tight ends, Anderson mentioned Broc Lane as a guy “you’d love to play in space” while discussing filling the hole Van Leeuwen left.
UNLV is great at chasing the quarterback
The Rebels rank T-10 in sacks among all FBS teams with 10 so far this season. Those 10 sacks are split among nine players, with eight having 1.0 sacks and Adam Plant Jr. having 2.0.
“Pretty much like us,” Anderson said. “You have a twitch on the edge. Your three-point technique is good enough to win one-on-one. So they cause problems.”
Anderson added that UNLV’s pass rush is offset by the team’s ability to play effective man-to-man coverage in the backend. Last week, USU struggled to break free from press coverage of Weber State. Doing so this week will be key to avoiding multiple rides being ended by premature sacks.