UNLV looks to keep game close on the road against tough Wisconsin team.
Can you smell it? It's the smell of football season. Football is back! And UNLV has the privilege of kicking off this year's season on National Television on Thursday Night. UNLV will take on a revamped Wisconsin team in Madison under the lights on ESPN HD and the Rebels are hoping to keep the game close.
In last season's game in Vegas, the Rebels kept it close in the first half, but that was mainly because of turnovers. An interception return for a touchdown and a 82 yard fumble return which set up a touchdown gave the Rebels 14 points and a 3 point deficit heading into halftime. It was all downhill from there. UNLV started with the ball first in the second half, but Wisconsin was the only team scoring that possession, as a Michael Johnson fumble was returned 20 yards for the score.
Wisconsin ended up dominating that game, as was expected, but that was a test game of sorts for the Rebels. UNLV honestly didn't know who their starting quarterback truly was until the first snap, and even then they weren't sure. The reality is that the Rebels probably would have gotten crushed even if they had some of the starting positions and offensive schemes shored up during the game.
The good news for Rebel fans? They now have those areas shored up and the team should be much more coherent than they were in last season's game against the Badgers. The bad news? The main reason that UNLV scored in last season's game was due to mistakes by a very good Wisconsin team. If Wisconsin plays a mentally good game, then don't be surprised to see a terrible score at the end of the game.
Anyways, lets talk about what has changed for each team. Wisconsin lost starting quarterback Scott Tolzien to graduation, but NC State transfer Russell Wilson will step in and may even improve the offense depending on how quickly he can grasp the offense. The Badgers lost John Clay last season, but don't expect the running game to drop off because of that. Montee Ball rushed for over 1,000 yards last season behind Clay and James White added another 500 to make the Wisconsin running game very good last season. This duo should keep the running game right on track.
For UNLV, they are also replacing their starting quarterback, but not with quite the some kind of talent. Russell Wilson was an All-ACC QB last season, while Caleb Herring hasn't gotten much time under center in his college career. The Rebels also are finally getting Quinton Pointer back, who is considered to be an NFL-level corner by many NFL scouts, and he should firm up the defensive backs along with Will Chandler who is a senior who forced two turnovers against Wisconsin last season.
The main issue for UNLV is going to be stopping the run against Wisconsin, which won't exactly be easy. Wisconsin has a massive offensive line and two great running backs, but UNLV also bulked up on the inside. 350 pound DT Nate Holloway has moved his way up the depth chart and JUCO Recruit Trent Allmang-Wilder, a 320 pound Defensive Tackle, was brought in during the off-season. The question is whether that extra size will make a difference in stopping Wisconsin's offense this season.
Russell Wilson was stunning at NC State as a dual threat quarterback with a great arm and pinpoint accuracy as well as great decision making. Even if UNLV is able to stop the Badgers amazing rushing attack, Russell Wilson shouldn't have much trouble dismantling the Rebels secondary. The corners may be much improved, but the safeties lack experience as does the linebacking core. Any sort of zone should struggle since zones require all defenders in coverage to cover well.
The UNLV offense can only get somewhere if they are able to get the running game going. This will be Sophomore Caleb Herring's first start in his career and the less he has to throw the ball, the better. If the running game is somehow able to get going (The running game was atrocious last season), then the UNLV offense just might have a chance of scoring some legitimate points that aren't coming from garbage time.
Us UNLV fans know that this most likely will not be a win. Wisconsin is quite simply a much better team and should win unless there is a mental lapse on the part of the Badgers. This game would be considered a good outing for the Rebels if they are able to move the ball in some form (i.e. Five or less three and outs) and the rushing defense shows some resistance.