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Nevada-UNLV: Position preview and prediction

Malik Reed
Malik Reed celebrates a sack during Nevada's game against Fresno State. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray breaks down Nevada’s game against UNLV with a position-by-position analysis.

Nevada (7-4, 5-2 MW) at UNLV (3-8, 1-6)

When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Sam Boyd Stadium (capacity 35,500)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 64; low of 44

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

Online: None

Betting line: Nevada by 13.5; total of 62.5

All-time series: Nevada leads, 26-17

Last game: Nevada 23, SJSU 16 (Nov. 25, 2017 in Reno)

Position-by-position

Quarterback: UNLV has been without QB Armani Rogers for much of the season but he returned to near full-time action last week. He’s a dangerous runner who struggles with his arm. Ty Gangi can become the third Nevada QB to beat UNLV three times, joining Colin Kaepernick and Fred Gatlin. Edge: Nevada

Running backs: Lexington Thomas is a consistent producer who has rushed for 3,510 yards and 40 touchdowns in his Rebels career. He has six 100-yard games this season. Nevada’s Toa Taua is dealing with a right ankle injury and Devonte Lee is banged up, too. Time for them to #GritUp. Edge: UNLV

Wide receivers/tight end: UNLV’s top receiver, Tyleek Collins (31/422/6), is a freshman. Brandon Presley (32/407/3) has been productive, too. Nevada freshman Romeo Doubs is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games and has been a good complement to slot guys Kaleb Fossum and McLane Mannix. Edge: Nevada

Offensive line: UNLV has a fairly experienced line that has paved the way for five yards per rush but it has given up 31 sacks, the third most in the MW. Nevada is averaging 4.8 yards per rush but has only given up 13 sacks, the fourth fewest in the MW. This is a strong suit for both teams. Edge: Nevada

Defensive line: The Rebels run a four-man front with three senior starters. Jameer Outsey, Salanoa-Alo Wily and Roger Mann have combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Nevada’s line, which has been superb, has to set the tone in this game as UNLV is a run-heavy team. Edge: Nevada

Linebackers: UNLV’s top backers are Gabe McCoy (12 TFL, four sacks) and Javin White (66 tackles, two sacks, two INTs, two FF). Nevada’s Malik Reed is wrapping up one of the best defensive careers for a Wolf Pack defender. He has 191 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 21 sacks and 11 forced fumbles over four years. Edge: Nevada

Secondary: UNLV has one of the most productive safeties in the MW in Dalton Baker (102 tackles, two INTs), but this is not a good unit (27 TD passes allowed, just seven INTs, 117th in the NCAA in pass efficiency defense). Nevada’s safeties must be good in run support against the Rebels. Edge: Nevada

Special teams: UNLV is 6-of-11 on field goals, has a solid P Hayes Hicken (43.9 yards per punt) and has gotten absolutely nothing out of its return game. Overall, this is a rough unit. Nevada used Spencer Pettit on extra points in is last game after Ramiz Ahmed missed a 28-yard field goal, so there could be a change at kicker. Edge: Nevada

Coaching: UNLV’s Tony Sanchez could be coaching for his job. Or not, only AD Desiree Reed-Francois knows. But if he gets blown out by Nevada at home for a third time that can’t help his cause (he’s been out-scored at home by Nevada 94-37 over two games). Nevada’s Jay Norvell is a top MW coach of the year candidate. Edge: Nevada

Prediction

Nevada 34, UNLV 23: There are three phases in football: offense, defense and special teams. UNLV isn’t good at any of them, ranking 95th in offense in ESPN's advanced metrics, 109th on defense and 126th on special teams. Bad. Bad. Bad. But UNLV has played better on defense the last two games, allowing 29.5 points per game against SDSU and Hawaii after giving up 49.6 points per game in its first five MW contests. Still, Nevada should be able to move the ball up and down the field against the Rebels, who allow 4.8 yards per rush and have one of the weaker secondaries in the conference. The only way UNLV wins this game is by effectively running the ball, limiting the number of possessions and forcing a couple of turnovers. Barring that, this should be a double-digit Wolf Pack win. I think the Rebels will hang in there on senior day (and potentially playing to save their coach), but the Wolf Pack has the better team, the better roster and the momentum. It’d be a major upset if Nevada lost this one. Season record: 11-0

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