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UNLV Football Game Preview: Rebels look to bounce back at Northwestern

UNLV faces a daunting task when they go on the road for the first time this season to faceoff against Northwestern.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Southern Utah at UNLV Photo by: Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Information

UNLV Rebels (1-1, 0-0 MWC) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-1. 0-0 Big Ten) at Ryan Field (Evanston, IL)

Date and Kickoff: Saturday, September 14 at 12:40 PM PST

Where to Watch and Listen: Big Ten Network and ESPN 1100AM/100.9 FM

Series History: UNLV and Northwestern have faced off twice before, and the Wildcats hold the series advantage at 2-0. The two teams faced off in 1998 in Evanston, and in 2002 in Las Vegas.

Significance of the Game

UNLV is coming off one of, if not the, most embarrassing loss in the Tony Sanchez era. Arkansas State manhandled UNLV and completely dominated the whole 60 minutes. Now, we will see how the Rebels respond. This game was already going to be a challenge for UNLV, and now we will see how the team will perform coming off a difficult loss and facing a daunting schedule ahead of them.

As I wrote last week, the Arkansas State game was going to be an indication how the rest of UNLV’s season would go. A win would have set them up nicely heading into the teeth of their schedule, and a loss would make the road to six wins more difficult. This game marks the first of a rough six game stretch. If the Rebels can pull this win off, it could be a momentum changer for the rest of the season.

Who’s In? Who’s Out?

Max Gilliam is still out with his foot injury. He is out of his walking boot and could be able to return in 2-3 weeks. Tight end Giovanni Fauolo has an ankle injury and is doubtful for Saturday’s game.

Tony Sanchez said that Courtney Reese is still day-to-day with his ankle injurt and is questionable. Chad Magyar is still out for “personal reasons,” and there is not a timetable for when he will return for the team. Biaggio Ali-Walsh, who has had back issues, is probable.

What To Watch For

Last week, Armani Rogers struggled against Arkansas State. UNLV eventually brought in backup redshirt-freshman Kenyon Oblad. Obald threw a touchdown and was far more productive than Rogers who played three quarters. After the game, Sahcnez hinted that there could be a battle at the positon. Rogers is listed on the depth chart as the starter for this week, but I don’t think Sanchez will have much patience if he struggles.

If I was Tony Sanchez, I would leave Rogers in the game as long as I can. If the game gets out of hand, then put Oblad in to get some reps. Oblad should not make is debut as a starter on the road against a Big Ten team. UNLV has a bye week after this game before they head to Wyoming to begin confernce play. That is a lot of time for the coaches to see who they trust the most to win games, and if Rogers struggles this week, the Rebels could have a new starting quarterback in Wyoming.

Three Keys To A UNLV Victory

1. Get Back To Your Bread and Butter

UNLV is a running team, and against Arkansas State, they got away from the run. The Rebels threw the ball way too much against Arkansas State.UNLV had 36 rushing plays and 33 passing plays. Some of those passing plays resulted in sacks, but the splits were close to 50-50. Which, for UNLV, is way too close.

Ideally the Rebels should be around 70% running plays and 30% passing plays. UNLV is at its best when they run the ball. So, UNLV has to run the ball as much as possible against Northwestern. Charles Williams needs to have close to 25, if not more, carries. And Armani Rogers needs about 10 rushing attempts. UNLV needs to keep pounding the ball against Northwestern to eventually try and tire out the Wildcats.

2. Offensive Line Must Protect

Forgotten in UNLV’s loss was the poor play by the UNLV offensive line. A topic of conversation entering the year was how strong UNLV’s line is. They were able to easily manhandle Southern Utah, but struggled mightily against Arkansas State.

Last Saturday, UNLV allowed six sacks. That did not help the already struggling Rebel offense, especially the passing attack. The line needs to step up against a physical Northwestern team. A knock on these Group of 5 teams when they play a Power 5 team is the difference in size and physicality. The Rebels have a great line, and if they can keep up with Northwestern and create gaps for the runners, UNLV will have a chance to put up some points.

3. Produce In The Return Game

During the Tony Sanchez era, UNLV’s return game has been atrocious. Last year, UNLV ranked near the bottom of the country in special teams returning. In kickoff returns, UNLV was 120th in average yards per kickoff return, (17.0). The Rebels were even worse in punt returning. They ranked 126th in total punt return yards, 39, and 127th in average yards per punt return, 3.0.

The Rebels must break a big run against the Wildcats. UNLV will need to take a kickoff return or a punt, and rip off a big run to flip field position. Or, the best case scenario, get a special teams touchdown which can change momentum. UNLV cannot afford to have any special teams miscues like fumbled returns or wrong players on the field. If UNLV can make a few more special teams plays than Northwestern, it could help keep the Rebels in the game.

Prediction

This game has the possibility to be close, however, I do not envision the game being that close. I might be overreacting to UNLV’s loss last Saturday, but if Arkansas State can exploit any weaknesses in UNLV, then so can Northwestern. According to our friends in the desert, the Rebels are 17 point underdogs to Northwestern. I feel UNLV will play well in the first half, and the game should be close at halftime. However, Northwestern will pull away and out play the Rebels in the second half. My prediction: Northwestern 33, UNLV 17