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7:45 PM PT8:45 PM MT9:45 PM CT10:45 PM ET2:45 AM GMT10:45 AM 北京时间7:45 PM MST9:45 PM EST, Oct. 7, 2017
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada  Attendance: 19,770

Defensive 'genius' carries No. 19 SDSU into UNLV

San Diego State Aztecs at UNLV Rebels

  1. San Diego State has won 12 of the last 15 games in this series, including a 26-7 home victory last season. The Rebels have dropped their last 18 games versus AP Top 25 opponents (0-1 in 2017), with their last such win coming at No. 15 Arizona State, September 13, 2008.
  2. San Diego State has a +9 (3 giveaways, 12 takeaways) turnover differential this season, which is tied with Penn State for the third-best margin in the FBS. The Aztecs had a +3 turnover differential through their first five games in 2016.
  3. Tariq Thompson had two defensive interceptions, including one that he returned 83 yards for a touchdown, in last week's game. He now has three INTs on the season, which is the most for any true freshman in the FBS.
  4. The Rebels held just one opponent to fewer than 20 points in the entire 2016 season. With their 41-13 victory over San Jose State last week, they have already held two opponents to fewer than 20 points this season.
  5. Lexington Thomas had 11 rushing touchdowns on 205 carries in his career entering this season. He has nine TDs on the ground on just 68 carries in 2017; the nine rushing TDs are tied with four other players for second most in the FBS (Royce Freeman (Oregon), 10).

With a little more than two minutes remaining and San Diego State clinging to a six-point lead last Saturday, the Aztecs needed a big play to deny Northern Illinois a touchdown.

Aztecs defensive back Kameron Kelly delivered with an end-zone interception, a play Kelly credits to the football smarts of his coach.

"Coach (Rocky) Long is a genius," Kelly said.

"That's right, I agree," Long said, laughing, before giving his honest evaluation. "That's not true at all. We try to put them in the best places that we can."

Perhaps, but the coach has proven especially adept as a defensive strategist through his career. He is credited as an innovator of the 3-3-5 odd-stack, a scheme designed to maximize speed and generate turnovers.

It has proven effective in Long's tenure at San Diego State.

The 19th-ranked Aztecs (5-0, 1-0 Mountain West) rank No. 6 nationally with 12 takeaways. A season ago, they finished fifth -- tied with one College Football Playoff participant, Alabama, and trailing another, Washington.

San Diego State led the nation in interceptions in 2016, and after snagging three against Northern Illinois, the Aztecs are tied for fourth heading into a Mountain West clash at UNLV (2-2, 1-0) on Saturday.

Northern Illinois forced San Diego State to make defensive adjustments, cutting a 17-point Aztecs lead to just a field goal in the third quarter.

San Diego State surrendered no more points thereafter, in part because of adjustments.

"The coach has to be smart enough that, if you have a guy out there (who) can't run with a certain receiver, then you better not put him in one-on-one situations anymore," Long said as an example. "You better always have a safety help him over there. So what we did was helping both (cornerbacks)."

The Aztecs' secondary will again face a sizable challenge in the passing game this week playing opposite UNLV wide receiver Devonte Boyd.

Boyd sits just 504 yards shy of surpassing Ryan Wolfe's UNLV record of 3,495 career receiving yards. He ranks 28th in the nation this season at 90.3 receiving yards per game.

If Boyd continues at that pace for the Rebels' remaining eight games, he would break former Colorado State wide receiver David Anderson's Mountain West record of 3,634 career receiving yards.

San Diego State held him in check a season ago, limiting Boyd to two receptions for 9 yards. The 2016 contest featured a marquee matchup, with All-America cornerback Damontae Kazee opposite Boyd.

This year, the veteran Kelly may see opportunities to make big plays against UNLV. However, Kelly said he believes the current San Diego State secondary -- and the Aztecs' roster as a whole -- is more well-rounded than a single playmaker.

"Last year was kind of just like, (running back Donnel) Pumphrey, Kazee and the rest of them," Kelly said. "This year, you never know who's going to make the play for us. And I think that's the best thing about having a team like this. That's why we've made it this far undefeated."

San Diego State's 5-0 start is the program's best since an 8-0 opening in 1975. The UNLV game is the first West division matchup for San Diego State in its pursuit of a third consecutive Mountain West title.

It is an intriguing matchup for the Aztecs' defense. A potent UNLV run game averaging 305.5 yards per game, paced by college football's fourth-most productive ball-carrier, Lexington Thomas, enables quarterback Armani Rogers to set up big pass plays for Boyd.

It is an approach not unlike that of San Diego State, which Long said likes to build from running back Rashaad Penny, in order to give quarterback Christian Chapman play-action pass opportunities. Penny has 823 rushing yards, averaging 7.1 per carry. Chapman has completed 66 of 103 passes for 796 yards, with seven touchdowns and one interception.

On defense, San Diego State uses a deep rotation. Safety Tariq Thompson picked off two passes last week, including one he returned 83 yards for a touchdown.

"Each week, if I don't step up, I know Tariq is going to step up," Kelly said. "If (cornerback) Ron (Smith) doesn't step up, I'm going to step up. And if I don't step up, Ron's going to step up."

And, of course, Kelly credits the "genius" on the sideline.

"(Long) puts us in perfect positions," Kelly said.

The game will go on Saturday in Las Vegas less than a week after a deadly mass shooting shook the city.

UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said, "We have a job to do and a great opportunity to go out Saturday night and give some people in our community a little bit of a reprieve and a little bit of a break from it. There are so many people who are hurting right now and they're going to have to peel themselves out of bed and out of their house. Hopefully, you get a couple of hours away from it because it's going to linger and be there a long time.

"If we can go out and play an inspired game and give everybody an opportunity to breathe a little bit and forget for a minute, then we need to do that."

Updated October 3, 2017

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