Head coach Tony Sanchez and the UNLV Rebels (1-0) started off the 2016 season exactly how they wanted to last Thursday against FCS opponent Jackson State. With a decisive victory.
The Rebels crushed the Tigers to the tune of 63-13 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. UNLV racked up 503 yards of total yards and held Jackson State to half as many. The Rebs jumped out to a three touchdown first quarter lead and put things on cruise control.
This weekend will bring a vastly different opponent, however. UNLV travels to UCLA (0-1) for a Saturday afternoon clash with the Bruins at the Rose Bowl. UCLA kicked off the season in heartbreaking fashion, overcoming a two touchdown fourth quarter deficit to force overtime at Texas A&M, only to fall in the first OT, 31-24.
Under center on Saturday for the Bruins will be quarterback Josh Rosen. Head coach Jim Mora isn’t shy about instructing Rosen to get the ball in the air, and maybe last weekend he should have been. Turnovers were a killer against the Aggies, as the sophomore was picked off three times, including once near mid-field with under a minute remaining in regulation. It can’t go unnoticed however, that many of Rosen’s throws were rushed, aided by poor offensive line play, arguably UCLA’s biggest weakness. Last season at UNLV, Rosen completed 22 of 42 passes for 223 yards, his third lowest total of the season.
Last week UNLV allowed just 144 yards passing, albeit against Jackson State, so if Mora is gun shy about allowing Rosen to sling it you’ll see plenty of UCLA’s backfield. It features big boys with lots of vowels. Soso Jamabo is a 6-3, 216 pound sophomore who led the Bruins with 91 yards on 23 carries against TAMU. Bolu Olorunfunmi is 5-10, 225 pounds and rumbled for 48 yards last week. These guys have big game potential. As a freshman last season, Jamabo totaled a modest 403 yards on the ground, but topped 70 rushing yards four times. That includes a 9 carry, 96 yard performance at Arizona.
There’s a trio of capable receivers that UNLV will have to contend with on Saturday. Kenneth Walker III, Darren Andrews, and Eldridge Massington don’t have the career stats that will jump off the page at you, but comprise a veteran group well experienced in Mora’s system. Walker led all UCLA receivers last week with 115 yards on 6 catches and a touchdown.
Defensively the Bruins will be among the top units UNLV plays this season regardless, but what happens this weekend has everything to do with who is on the field. UCLA’s monster defensive end and self-proclaimed “best pass rusher in the country,” Takkarist McKinley, re-injured his groin in the A&M game and is listed as day to day. Deon Hollins, an All-Pac 12 selection last season at linebacker may be out due to a concussion. Even if those two are unable to play, redshirt freshman Keisan Lucier-South could make it a long day for the Rebels offense.
Anybody who watched UNLV against Jackson State knows that there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of Rebels football. Johnny Stanton was dazzling in his debut at quarterback, and Devonte Boyd added to an already remarkable career at receiver. The Rebels are deep in the backfield and the defense created havoc all night for JSU in the opener. That said, this is a UCLA team that was picked by the media to represent the South Division in the Pac-12 title game and with good reason. The Bruins have talent all over the field, and it’s no accident that they came so close to pulling the upset at Texas A&M. UNLV hanging for a half would be an impressive accomplishment, to be within shouting distance in the fourth will take a herculean effort from the Rebels.
UNLV and UCLA kickoff from Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California Saturday, September 10th, at 5pm PT.