The BYU Cougars finally covered a number two weeks ago. They liked it so much that they covered again last week. Now, we have a pretty interesting game, at least from a gambling standpoint, between BYU and the UNLV Rebels. UNLV is two wins away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013 and the second time since 2000. BYU will not be bowling. Will that motivational edge make a difference? We’ll have to see, since UNLV is just a four-point favorite at 5Dimes Sportsbook for Friday night’s game.
BYU started the season 1-7 straight up and 0-8 against the spread. We finally reached a buy point against San Jose State when BYU was steamed down to -9.5 and won 41-20. Last week, the buy sign was on for BYU against Fresno State in a seven-point loss as an 11.5-point dog. UNLV has been a tough team to peg. After winning as a 21.5-point underdog against Fresno State two weeks ago, UNLV narrowly covered for most bettors against Hawaii last week. The Rebels technically pushed the close, but not many people bet -8. That moved the Rebels to 6-3 ATS and 4-5 straight up.
BYU quarterbacks are cursed. There may not be a natural body part left in the knees of Taysom Hill. Now, Tanner Mangum, who has been through a lot in his collegiate career, suffered an Achilles injury and his season is over. Magnum had completed 57.2 percent of his passes with an 8/9 TD/INT ratio in Ty Detmer’s scheme, which is not working at BYU. This means that Beau Hoge, who has a 48.7 percent completion percentage on 39 attempts, will start this week for the Cougars. The running game has been almost serviceable with five yards per carry from Squally Canada and some help from KJ Hall along the way, but this is a BYU team that has averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and just five yards per play. Things were improving a bit with 6.2 yards per play over the last three games, but the loss of Mangum will stunt that progress.
Through it all, the BYU defense has been solid, which is why this line is where it is. The Cougars have only allowed 3.9 yards per carry and just 5.3 yards per play. With the offense unable to sustain much of anything, this defense has been on the field for an average of 33 minutes per game and has faced an average of 72 plays per game, while the offense has only managed 61. BYU has 21 turnovers and the defense has come up with 14 takeaways. All in all, it has been a throwaway season for the program, but the defense keeps showing up game in and game out by holding the opposition to 26.4 points per game and only 12.3 points per game in the second half. Seven of BYU’s 10 games have stayed under the total with the help of this unit.
UNLV brings a pretty potent rushing attack to the table. Typically the Runnin’ Rebels play basketball, but UNLV’s ground game has racked up 5.7 yards per carry on the season. Lexington Thomas has 1,063 yards on his 162 attempts and has found paydirt 14 times. Armani Rogers has completed 52.5 percent of his passes with a 5/5 TD/INT ratio, but it is the 5.5 yards per carry on 98 attempts that has really separated this offense. Rogers did not play in the win over Fresno State with a concussion, but he did play against Hawaii. He only threw the ball five times and only had three carries. Johnny Stanton was 18-of-26 for 244 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. We could see both quarterbacks again this week, especially if the plan is to ease Rogers back into the mix.
The UNLV defense is really bad and that could be the break that BYU needs with Mangum out. The Rebels have allowed 6.1 yards per play this season and five yards per carry. Opposing quarterbacks have 7.6 yards per pass attempt against this defense. In some respects, this defense is a little bit better than last year’s unit that allowed 5.9 yards per play, but gave up 36.8 points per contest. Either way, this is still the weak spot of the team. Veteran defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who spent time with San Jose State, likes to employ a bend, but don’t break style. UNLV only had 28 sacks the previous two seasons combined and only has nine this season. The fact that an inexperienced QB in Hoge may have time to throw seems counterintuitive, but we’ll have to see if UNLV changes things up a bit.
College Football Free Pick: UNLV Rebels -4
My number on this game is -8 with the Tanner Mangum factor taken into account for BYU. The biggest issue in this game is that UNLV’s offensive strength is mitigated by BYU’s defensive strength and that UNLV has allowed just about everybody to score. But, this BYU offense is exceptionally bad when the experienced Mangum cannot play. The two-quarterback system could be very effective with the passer in Stanton and the runner in Rogers. UNLV just has more flexibility and more to play for, so they get the nod in this one.