Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 | 2 a.m.
UNLV at New Mexico
Saturday, 3 p.m.
at University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
Mountain West Network, Silver State Entertainment (Cox 125, antenna 5.2)
UNLV will attempt to get back on the winning track on Saturday, when Barry Odom takes his 6-2 squad to New Mexico in a battle that has Mountain West title implications for the Scarlet and Gray.
Three keys to watch as UNLV tries to stay in the hunt:
Runing game still on track
UNLV has lost two games this season, and in both contests the offense struggled to run the ball.
The Scarlet and Gray averaged just 2.9 yards on 74 attempts against Michigan and Fresno State, while in their six wins they ran 269 times at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry. Despite the reduced production against Fresno State, Odom found a silver lining in the way they stuck with the game plan and found some traction in the fourth quarter.
“It was tough early,” he said. “They’re really good up front, in my opinion. We’ve got a good offensive line, so there were some battles there. We won some, they won some but as the game went, we were able to get some more things going.”
UNLV should have more success this week against a New Mexico front that allows 5.4 yards per carry, which is the eighth-worst mark in the entire country.
Special teams has been a distinct advantage for UNLV this season, creating favorable field position and even producing big plays in the return game. But punt returner Jacob De Jesus committed an error against Fresno State when he got caught between fielding a punt and letting it bounce; instead it caromed off his leg, Fresno recovered and game turned.
That turnover opened the floodgates as UNLV proceeded to give away the ball four times. Odom acknowledged his team cannot survive that many miscues, but he said he’s not worried about it becoming a trend.
He still trusts De Jesus, who has been brilliant as a return man this year, to make the right play every time.
“Red-zone punt, for the returner that’s a difficult spot,” Odom said. “He’s got to make a split-second decision: Do we make it, [or] do we let it bounce and then we’re pinned inside the 10-yard line? Jacob has made a million great decisions since he’s been here. That was a bad decision. He’ll learn from it.”
Don’t be shocked if De Jesus rips off a long return at some point on Saturday and the special teams units resume their field-flipping ways.
UNLV is running thin in the secondary, with star cornerback Jerrae Williams having missed the last four games due to a foot injury, and now the team will likely be without senior Johnathan Baldwin for a while, too.
Baldwin suffered a leg injury against New Mexico and did not return, and Odom did not sound optimistic about a speedy recovery when he spoke to the media on Monday. The team still has big-play capability in senior Jaxen Turner (four interceptions) and junior Cameron Oliver (two interceptions), but how long can the patchwork group hold up?
Fortunately, throwing the ball is not New Mexico’s forte. The Lobos average 7.2 yards per attempt through the air and 222.0 passing yards per game, both of which rank them in the middle of the pack nationally. UNLV should have a good matchup there, even with the injuries piling up.
What: UNLV (6-2, 3-1 MWC) at New Mexico (3-5, 1-3 MWC)
When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
TV: Mountain West Network, Silver State Entertainment
Radio: 1100AM, 100.9FM
Line: UNLV -10.5
Jayden Maiava: 64.2%, 1,579 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs
Donavyn Lester: 377 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 7 TDs
Ricky White: 47 receptions, 719 yards, 4 TDs
Jackson Woodard: 69 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 INT
New Mexico leaders
Dylan Hopkins: 58.1%, 1,638 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs
Jacory Croskey-Merritt: 589 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 12 TDs
Jeremiah Hixon: 26 receptions, 336 yards, 5 TDs
Zach Morris: 27 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PDs