Last week, the UNLV Rebels played Jackson State, an FCS team and they pounded them 63-13. Only 14 points were put on the board by the Rebel defense, which means that UNLV’s offense put up the rest.
Now, of course, UCLA is no Jackson State, but we can learn a few things from looking at what the Rebels did in their opener.
They rushed for 280 yards while passing for 223. So, look for the UNLV to want to run the ball against the Bruin defense. That makes even more sense when you consider the fact that UCLA’s secondary is probably its best overall unit. If I were UNLV offensive coordinator Barney Cotton, I’d be looking to establish the run first, knowing that UCLA’s run defense was downright atrocious at times last season.
With a h/t to our old friend gBruin, line wins games. Assuming that holds true, I just can’t see doing much against the Bruin defense, but it doesn’t mean they won’t try.
The right side of the offensive line is full of youth and inexperience. RG Justin Polu is a redshirt freshman who played in his first collegiate game last week while sophomore RT Nathan Jacobson started only his third game and played in his eighth game overall.
The left side features a little more experience. Junior Keith Saxelid started all 12 games last season for the Rebels and junior transfer Michael Chevalier spent his first two seasons at San Diego Mesa College before transferring to UNLV.
The line is anchored by senior Will Kreitler who was named to the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list before the season.
I fully expect the Rebels to try to run and run left, but you don’t get to almost 300 yards rushing by only running left. The Bruin run defense needs to show how much improved it is over last season.
UNLV’s top running back last week was true freshman Charles Williams from Bullard HS in Fresno. He posted 96 yards on 12 attempts and scored one touchdown. Look for him to get the most carries for the Rebels.
Behind him, UNLV has a tandem they call Lex and X. That’s sophomore backs Lexington Thomas and Xzavier Campbell. Technically, Lex is ahead of Williams on the Rebel depth chart, but that seems to be just a formality. Thomas ran 11 times last week for just 68 yards but scored twice while X had 10 touches for 53 yards.
It’s hard to tell from last week’s stats what this week’s rotation will look like since some of those attempts likely came because the game was so one-sided, but these are the three guys to look out for.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Since we’re playing UNLV, let’s give these guys a flashy showbiz name, like "Devonte and the Freshmen." That’s exactly what the Rebel receiving corps is made up of — junior Devonte Boyd and three freshmen receivers. Boyd was the only UNLV receiver to catch more than one ball last week, but three of his catches went for scores.
The rest of the receivers, Darren Woods, Jr., Mekhi Stevenson, Allan Cui III, and Brandon Presley, along with tight ends Andrew Price and Tim Holt, each had one catch last week as the Rebels spread the ball around to a total of eight different receivers including RB Lexington Thomas. However, only Boyd had more than 35 receiving yards.
The guy getting them the ball is also new to UNLV. Johnny Stanton spent his first two years of college at Nebraska before transferring. Last week, Stanton completed 10 of 12 passes for 217 yards. Considering his completion percentage was so high and that two of his first three passes last week went to Devonte Boyd for touchdowns, it’s probable that UNLV started running the ball more once they got up by a few scores.
I expect the Bruin secondary to key on Boyd and force Stanton to look for other, less potent targets.
UNLV is still a young team that is maturing and making progress under second-year head coach Tony Sanchez. I expect them to put up more of a fight than they did last year as the team has had a full year to adapt to Sanchez’s system.
Of course, this should be a confidence-building exercise for the Bruins, but, with BYU and Stanford on the horizon, the Bruin defense cannot afford to look past the Rebels.
This is, after all, the biggest game they will play all year. It’s their "bowl game."