Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 | 11 a.m.
Fresno, Calif. —
If there was one thing Barry Odom and his team made clear this week, it’s that UNLV is not satisfied with six wins and a bowl game.
The team celebrated after securing their postseason berth via last week’s 25-23 win over Colorado State, but now it’s back to business — the business of chasing the Mountain West championship.
At 3-0 in conference play, the Scarlet and Gray are as well-positioned as anyone to claim a spot in the title game, and their chances would improve further with a victory at Fresno State on Saturday (7:40 p.m., FS1).
Can UNLV win its sixth straight game? Three keys to watch:
Coming off yet another last-minute comeback, this time going 4-of-4 for 50 yards on the game-winning drive, Jayden Maiava can do no wrong.
UNLV has won five straight games with the freshman quarterback at the helm, including all four of his starts, and he is now locked in as the No. 1 on the depth chart. Now it’s time to see just how far he can take this offense.
The running game has been the main driver of UNLV’s offensive attack this year, but Maiava has been sharpening the passing attack. Against CSU he hit on 27-of-36 passes for 353 yards, and he got everyone involved, spreading the ball around to receivers Jacob De Jesus (nine catches, 120 yards), Ricky White (nine catches, 74 yards) and Senika McKie (four catches, 70 yards) and tight end Kaleo Ballungay (two catches, 52 yards).
Fresno State ranks 47th nationally in pass defense with just 6.9 yards allowed per attempt; that puts the Bulldogs third among Mountain West teams. It may not seem like an inviting matchup, but look for UNLV to take some shots down the field, especially with the way Maiava and the receiving corps are cooking right now.
Knock it down
Speaking of pass defense, UNLV’s is at the other end of the spectrum. The Scarlet and Gray allow 8.8 yards per attempt, which is the eighth-worst mark in the nation, so there are plays to be made against UNLV’s secondary.
Fresno State is built to take advantage of that kind of weakness. Quarterback Mikey Keene is completing 68.5% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and the Bulldogs average more than 300 passing yards per game, so expect them to spread the field and fire away at UNLV’s weak link.
The Scarlet and Gray defensive backs did contribute some big plays against Colorado State, however, including a fourth-quarter interception by Jaxen Turner on a trick play, and Odom wants to see the group build on that performance.
“We’re still not where we need to be, but there was good progress,” Odom said. “The play that Jaxen turner made on the double pass, that was a huge momentum play for us.”
To put it simply, is UNLV ready for a game like this?
After decades of irrelevance, Odom’s squad suddenly finds itself in the middle of the conference championship race, on the road against a program that is familiar competing with those kind of stakes. Will Fresno State’s institutional experience make a difference on the field?
Senior center Jack Hasz said he and his teammates had better get used to playing in big games.
“I’d be lying if I said, with how far we’ve come and everything we’ve done, if the games don’t feel any different,” Hasz said. “Games are obviously going to be bigger, and even as we go further along, hopefully bigger than this one this week.”
What: UNLV (6-1, 3-0 MWC) vs. Fresno State (6-1, 2-1 MWC)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 1100AM, 100.9FM
Line: Fresno State -9.5
Jayden Maiava: 65.2%, 1,311 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs
Donavyn Lester: 325 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 7 TDs
Ricky White: 40 receptions, 567 yards, 2 TDs
Jackson Woodard: 59 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 INT
Fresno State leaders
Mikey Keene: 68.5%, 1,692 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs
Malik Sherrod: 432 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 5 TDs
Erik Brooks: 39 receptions, 551 yards, 4 TDs
Morice Norris: 34 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2 INTs