The UNLV Coaching Staff is the real wildcard in everything leading up to the game tomorrow night.
Tony Sanchez and staff are trying to take a team that has not performed well for the better part of fifteen years and build it into a winner in the Mountain West Conference.
So far, Sanchez has shown that he's willing to rip everything up as part of his process of building a winner. That even goes to the team's playing surface at Sam Boyd Stadium which now resembles a craps table.
Sanchez comes to the Rebels from Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas which won six consecutive Nevada 4A state titles and also won the mythical high school national championship last season. While a bunch of coaches, including Gerry Faust at Notre Dame, have tried to make the jump from HS to a Div. 1 program, none of them have been successful at the Division 1 level. Sanchez is looking to become the first.
His only collegiate coaching experience prior to arriving at UNLV was as an undergraduate assistant at New Mexico State in 1996. He is an offensive-minded coach having played WR at Laney College near Oakland and at NMSU.
Speaking of offense, Sanchez's offensive coordinator is former Nebraska OC Barney Cotton. Cotton was on Bo Pellini's staff for the past seven years and joined the Rebels after serving as interim head coach for the Huskers last year in the Holiday Bowl. So, his offensive may look similar to what Nebraska threw at us when we played them in 2012 and 2013, but, again, Sanchez is the wildcard in the offensive equation.
On defense, Sanchez brought in Kent Baer. Baer is most associated as serving as an assistant to former Stanford, Notre Dame, and Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham, but he also served as DC for Colorado coach Mike McIntyre at both San Jose State and Colorado. Baer came to UNLV after sitting down and talking to Sanchez about what was going on at UNLV. And, he took a massive pay cut to do it.
As a result, the Rebel defense scheme may look very similar to what Baer did in Colorado last season. Now, that isn't saying much. Colorado did rank 111 out of 125 teams defensively.
But, again, Sanchez is that wildcard. He is attempting to change the culture at UNLV and his coaches have bought in and so have the players. The team lost a close game to NIU last week 38-30.
I'm not saying that the Rebels have a chance, but I am saying I probably wouldn't suggest betting the house on it if you're in town for the game. Sanchez and staff will have the team ready to play.
The placekicking duties will be handled by junior kicker Nicolai Borland. Borland's season was cut short last year by injury and he only played in seven games. But, in those seven games, he was 2 for 3 between 40 and 49 yards and 1 for 2 past the 50, His long was 54 yards last season. Last week at NIU, he was hit all three FG tries including a 51-yarder.
Punter Logan Yunker is on the Ray Guy award watch list. Last week, he averaged 43 yards per punt with a long of 55 and no touchbacks. His career long is 73 yards and he has had at least 14 punts of 50+ yards in each of his seasons at UNLV. While we certainly would like to see the punter on the field, Yunker may make us think twice about that come Saturday night.
The kick return team seems to be average having a long of 22 yards last week while UNLV had no punt returns last week. That isn't because NIU didn't punt. They actually punted four times all of which were fair catches.
That wraps up our look at the coaching staff and special teams.