San Diego State seeks to reach double digits in victories for the fifth time in the past seven seasons when it visits UNLV in Mountain West play on Friday night.
The No. 19 Aztecs (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West) can also move closer to the West division title if they defeat the Rebels for the 16th time in the past 20 meetings.
San Diego State put itself in control of its division fate when it notched a 23-21 win over visiting Nevada last Saturday.
UNLV (2-8, 2-4) has won its past two games, and Aztecs standout linebacker Cameron Thomas took notice.
“I’ve watched this team several times this season, and their record does not show who they are,” Thomas said. “I think they’re a really good team. We must keep our edge this weekend and go out there and execute.”
Thomas has recorded 16.5 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks, for a unit that has given up 14 or fewer points on six occasions.
The San Diego State passing game doesn’t scare anyone — it ranks 126th nationally at 136.9 yards per game — but Lucas Johnson was 21-of-34 passing for 176 yards and one touchdown against Nevada while making his fourth straight start.
The Aztecs are a rare Top 25 program whose best player is a punter.
Matt Araiza leads the nation with a 52.25 average and is on pace to break the single-season mark set by Braden Mann (50.98) of Texas A&M in 2018.
Araiza has boomed six punts of 70 or more yards this season, including boots of 86 and 81 yards. He also has had 29 of his punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
“You talk about field position and those kinds of things, what Matt has done, how he’s played, he’s the MVP,” Aztecs coach Brady Hoke said.
UNLV has its own star in Charles Williams, who became the fourth player in Mountain West history to top 4,000 career rushing yards with an epic performance in a 27-13 victory over visiting Hawaii.
Williams set a school record with 38 carries as he rushed for 266 yards, matching former NFL player Mike Thomas for the second-most rushing yards in school history. Williams has rushed for 1,089 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and is UNLV’s all-time leading rusher with 4,029.
“He was a machine,” Rebels coach Marcus Arroyo said of the player nicknamed “Chuck Wagon.” “We’re in the 10th game of the season, and you’re out here playing like that? Says a lot about Charles.”
Williams, who scored three touchdowns, did what many running backs do after a huge game — credit the offensive line.
“Shout out to the line, they did their job today,” Williams said. “I had a lot of big holes, big creases, set up for me. I helped them out by making the right cuts and not dancing too much.”
UNLV isn’t a strong defensive team and has allowed 35 or more points on five occasions. However, things have been different in the back-to-back wins over New Mexico and Hawaii as the Rebels gave up a combined 30 points.
The Aztecs rolled to a 34-6 victory in last season’s meeting when Greg Bell rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown. Bell leads San Diego State with 849 rushing yards this season.
–Field Level Media