Keith M. Scheessele covers UNLV for Mountain West Connection, SB Nation’s site for the entire Mountain West Conference. We had an opportunity to ask Keith some questions about UNLV prior to today’s game to learn a little more about the Rebels.
BN: How would you describe UNLV?
MWC: The most important thing to remember about UNLV is that this program finally has a path, a vision. The team was rudderless for so long, but Tony Sanchez has brought an energy and enthusiasm to the program that hasn't been felt in a long time. Last season was viewed a big success for a program going nowhere. Winning the game against Nevada and bringing the Fremont Cannon back to Las Vegas was huge for everyone. Expectations are reasonable, but fans will be looking for the team to take a step forward this year, perhaps win one or more of the close Mountain West Conference games that they lost a year ago. Certainly 2016 got off to a good start with last week's win over Jackson State.
BN: What kind of progess has the team made under second-year coach Tony Sanchez?
MWC: People are finally talking about UNLV football which wasn't a thing in the past. The public would show flashes of interest, but certainly people seem more invested now. It's an exciting team. Playmakers all over the field. Now that doesn't always translate to wins, but it's generating some interest. Three wins last year was better than expected. Again, we'll need to take a step forward this season. That doesn't mean beating teams like UCLA, just being more competitive in MWC play.
BN: Which unit do you think is the strongest one on the team?
MWC: The team is awfully deep at running back. Lexington Thomas and Xzaviar Campbell were expected to compete for the bulk of the carries after impressive seasons last year as freshman, but it was Charles Williams who turned heads last week against Jackson State. I realize it was just Jackson State, but 96 yards on 12 carries is impressive for anyone playing in their first collegiate game. Add in what quarterback Johnny Stanton can do on the ground, and the Rebels have a pretty dynamic rushing attack.
BN: Besides Devonte Boyd, who is the Rebels biggest playmaker?
MWC: I'd say Stanton. Maybe that's a little uninspired, to default to the dual-threat quarterback as the team's biggest playmaker, but he really did open some eyes in the opening week win. 10 of 12 through the air, 3 touchdowns, and another 35 yards on the ground. Now, I know that he's not going to put up those kind of numbers against UCLA. Far from it, in all likelihood. What I'll be watching for on Saturday is how he responds under pressure. Tossing a lot of touchdowns is considerably less important than minimizing the turnovers and other mistakes.
BN: Will the team play inspired because of they are playing in the Rose Bowl or will they be overwhelmed by it?
MWC: Some of these guys played last season at the Big House in a 28-7 loss to Michigan. The Rebels played reasonably well, that means they covered the spread. I believe Coach Sanchez is the kind of guy who adequately prepares his team for playing in a loud, hostile road environment. I know that there will be some initial shock, for sure, but whether it's naive or not, I'm thinking they will be ready for that environment.
BN: For good measure, does the Davis-Adelson dome get built or will the Rebels be stuck at Sam Boyd forever?
I am a Las Vegas tax-payer. If there is a solution to Sam Boyd that does not involve a $750 million price tag for the public, I'm all ears. If not, guess we'll have to keep driving out to the middle of the desert.
Well, there you have it. A little more knowledge about today’s opponent, the UNLV Rebels. Thanks to Keith from the Mountain West Connection for answering our questions. Don’t forget, go to Mountain West Connection for all your Mountain West Conference news and analysis. UNLV and UCLA kick off from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California Saturday at 5pm PT.
The Bruins’ home opener is now just eight hours away!