Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 | 2 a.m.
UNLV vs. Wyoming
Friday, 7:45 p.m.
At this point in the season, every game is a must-win for UNLV football as Barry Odom and his squad chase a spot in the Mountain West title game. This week, it’s a showdown against Wyoming at Allegiant Stadium on Friday (7:45 p.m., FS1).
UNLV comes into the week tied for second place in the conference standings (the top two teams meet in the MWC championship game), so a win is probably necessary in order to keep pace. Can they take care of the Cowboys for the first time since 2016?
Three keys to watch:
Defense stand up
This Wyoming squad has little use for the passing game. The Cowboys line up and run the ball on 56.5% of their offensive snaps, which is the 28th-highest rate in the nation, so they’ll be coming straight ahead at the UNLV defensive front.
Odom will have his team ready. He puts a high priority on creating a numbers advantage in the trenches, and it has resulted in UNLV fielding a top run defense this season, as they rank 27th nationally in both yards per carry allowed (3.6) and yards per game allowed (118.1).
Junior linebacker Jackson Woodard, one of the linchpins of the run defense, said UNLV will meet the challenge head-on.
“Wyoming, they’re a physical team,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of players that do things right and are very physical. They’re going to want to run the ball, and it’s going to be up to us to stop it.”
UNLV could get a boost if senior defensive back Jerrae Williams is able to suit up. He returned to practice this week and Odom said he could be cleared to play on Friday for the first time since Sept. 23 against UTEP.
Williams was one of UNLV’s most productive defenders through the first four games racking up 3.0 sacks, 7.0 tackles for loss, and interception and a fumble recovery touchdown, all from his slot cornerback position.
Special teams rolling
It has been more than 20 years since the Scarlet and Gray ran back a punt for a touchdown, but that drought may not last much longer.
Junior receiver Jacob De Jesus has piled up a ton of return yards this season, and last week at New Mexico he came close to taking a punt return to the house — twice. In the first quarter, he ran one back 59 yards before being chased down at the UNM 30-yard line, and in the second quarter he snapped off a 53-yard return before being caught from behind at the UNM 21.
Woodard, who serves on the return team, said De Jesus inspires the rest of the crew to land their blocks because they know he’s capable of flipping field position in an instant.
“We know we have a special returner in Jacob De Jesus,” Woodard said. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of the best returners in the nation. We know if we can just do our job, he’s going to make a big play.”
And about that streak? Woodard believes De Jesus will find a way to get past the last line of defense and take it into the end zone — maybe even this week.
“It’s going to come sooner than later. He’s just got to get that boost behind him — those extra five yards. It feels like he’s at the 5-yard line every time. But he’ll get one. We’re sure of it.”
White taking over offense
While UNLV game plans to slow down the Wyoming run game, the Cowboys coaches have to be asking themselves how the heck they’re going to deal with Ricky White.
UNLV’s No. 1 receiver is on a roll right now, coming off a 165-yard, two-touchdown performance at New Mexico. It was the third time in the last four games he posted at least 150 yards and two touchdowns, and this time it earned him Mountain West Player of the Week honors.
“He’s been a huge playmaker for us,” Odom said. “I think he’s one of the elite receivers in college football.”
While UNLV will stick to the script and establish the running game, when it’s time to throw the ball and create big plays, look for White to be the primary target.
What: UNLV (7-2, 4-1 MWC) vs. Wyoming (6-3, 3-2 MWC)
When: Friday, 7:45 p.m.
Radio: 1100AM, 100.9FM
Line: UNLV -3.5
Jayden Maiava: 64.9%, 1,826 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs
Vincent Davis: 520 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 4 TDs
Ricky White: 55 receptions, 884 yards, 6 TDs
Jackson Woodard: 73 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 INT
Andrew Peasley: 59.2%, 1,195 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs
Harrison Waylee: 686 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, 3 TDs
Wyatt Wieland: 29 receptions, 270 yards, 4 TDs
Shae Suiaunoa: 71 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks