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UNLV hopes to rekindle run game against No. 22 Fresno State

Yes, UNLV running back Charles Williams is returning to his native Fresno, California, for a football game Friday.

No, now is not the time to get too sentimental.

“Just because (Fresno) is familiar to me, it doesn’t really matter. I treat everybody the same. I prepare the same,” said the sixth-year senior, “It’s not just about me. It’s the UNLV Rebels. It’s not Chuck’s game. … We’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do as a team, as a unit. And get better as a family, too.”

The Rebels on Friday venture to No. 22 Fresno State, where Williams will play one final time before friends and family in his beloved hometown. He’s had some of the best games of his career against the Bulldogs, totaling 153 rushing yards in 2016 as a true freshman and 121 yards in 2018 as a third-year sophomore.

UNLV hopes he can get back on track again this time around.

“It’s very special. You don’t get too many chances like this to be able to play in front of your hometown,” said Williams, who leads all active FBS players with 3,189 rushing yards. “But also, we’ve got to handle business. It’s not a vacation. That’s the most important thing.”

Williams started his final college season in spectacular fashion, rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns Sept. 2 in UNLV’s opener against Eastern Washington. But better competition has slowed the Chuck Wagon the last two games. He’s totaled 77 rushing yards on 32 carries in losses to No. 23 Arizona State and No. 14 Iowa State.

They were his lowest outputs in games with double-figure carries since 2018.

UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said Monday during his weekly press conference that the Rebels would tinker with their offensive line in an effort to develop the kind of cohesion that could spring Williams.

“We believe in the run game, obviously. … The two teams we played the last two weeks, they harnessed the run,” Arroyo said, referencing the Sun Devils and Cyclones, who rushed for 290 and 184 yards, respectively, against UNLV.

“We pride ourselves on getting to be a physical program,” Arroyo added. “They know that. That’s going to be a big piece of what we do and our identity. So running the football is what we have to do.”

Arroyo also acknowledged that the Rebels must throw the ball more effectively to ease the burden on Williams, who is often tasked with facing eight-man fronts.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Doug Brumfield returned to practice this week after missing last week with an undisclosed upper body injury. Arroyo was optimistic about his availability against the Bulldogs. He’s the only UNLV quarterback to engineer a touchdown drive this season, and he’s second on the team to Williams with 70 rushing yards.

“Right now, we need to do things to balance us out so we can get the (tackle) box unloaded a little bit, so we can do some stuff,” Arroyo said. “The run game goes hand in hand with what we do.”

Defensively, the Rebels must contend with Fresno State senior quarterback Jake Haener and perhaps the Mountain West’s most explosive offense.

He leads the FBS with 1,464 passing yards to go with 10 touchdowns against one interception.

“He knows what to do in the offense. He knows what to do with the ball,” Arroyo said.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at [email protected] Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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