It's no secret that UNLV was blown out by Wisconsin in it's season opener. The Rebels opened up the College Football season on a Thursday night on ESPN in primetime and were destroyed by a Wisconsin team with National Title hopes, 51-17. There were actually some positives to that game, as I mentioned in my recap, such as UNLV's offense actually moving the ball fairly well against the Wisconsin Badgers defense. There were also many negatives, such as the Rebels being unable to finish most of those nice drives and the defense being unable to hold Wisconsin's offense to less than 50 points.
What is a secret is that Washington State played football last Saturday. They had their own version of the UNLV-Wisconsin matchup, destroying Idaho State 64-27 at home. The bad news coming out of that game was that the Cougars lost their starting quarterback Jeff Tuel, who was possibly the best player for that team. Losing him could mean the Cougar passing offense could be much easier to stop on Saturday or it could not mean much. It just depends on how good the backup quarterback's decision making is and if the running game can support him.
One of the bigger questions heading into this game is whether or not UNLV's defense played horrible against Wisconsin simply because it was Wisconsin or whether it was becasue UNLV's defense is just that bad. It really could be both, since UNLV didn't return many starters in the Front Seven and Wisconsin is a juggernaut of an offense with a massive offensive line, two outstanding running backs, a receiving corps that can keep up with anyone in the Big Ten, and an All-ACC quarterback from last season.
The good news for the Rebels is that Washington State hasn't been all that good in the running game (which is where UNLV's main weakness has been the past couple of years) and, as was previously mentioned, the Cougars are going to be missing possibly their best player at quarterback. With experienced corners and a backup quarterback playing for Washington State, I could see the Cougars passing offense struggling and the offense as a whole struggling unless they are able to get the running game going.
Another question is what style of offense are the Rebels going to run. Last week, both Jeremy and I expected UNLV to come out in a pro-style, under center offense. Instead, UNLV went with more spread with about 35% pistol. The only reasoning I could come up with to explain that was that the Rebels wanted to avoid a crowded box from Wisconsin (which would have happened had they ran a pro-style offense) and also wanted to avoid the huge size disadvantage in the trenches.
The good news for UNLV is that they don't have a size disadvantage in the trenches against Washington State. The Cougars' defensive line averages 6'3" and 272 pounds, compared to the UNLV offensive line which averages 6'3" 287 pounds. There isn't too much of an advantage there for UNLV, but it certainly is not a disadvantage.
A piece of news which should excite UNLV fans is that Head Coach Bobby Hauck has told the media that Phillip Payne is back at full strength (whereas he was still recovering, granted he wasn't very far away from a full recovery, against Wisconsin). This should give Caleb Herring a legitimate deep threat on the outside with some playmaking ability.
Washington State definitely is the favorite in this game, and rightfully so. The Cougars are much improved from their previous two seasons, are at home, and UNLV didn't play well at all in Week 1. This team should expect to beat UNLV, but if the Rebels manage to pull out a victory I wouldn't be too surprised. UNLV's offense looked good against a very good Wisconsin defense and the Rebels defense shouldn't have quite the tall task that is playing in Madison against that Wisconsin offense. Should Washington State win this game? Probably. Does UNLV have a chance at getting a victory? More so than people think.