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UNLV Preview: Offense

On offense, UNLV's strengths and weaknesses are similar to UCLA's last opponent, the Virginia Cavaliers.

On Saturday, UCLA will try to contain UNLV's big play receiver, sophomore Devonte Boyd.
On Saturday, UCLA will try to contain UNLV's big play receiver, sophomore Devonte Boyd.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of the UNLV football team's offensive unit. The Bruins will face UNLV this Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. PT, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Sin City.

UNLV returns four starters on the offense of side of the ball from its 2014 campaign, in which it went 2-11. The Rebels’ only wins were a one point victory over FCS Northern Colorado and a three point overtime win over Fresno State. Last season, UNLV was ranked 98th (out of 128 schools) in points per game, and 81st in yards per game. For UNLV, it can only get better from there, right?


One of the returning starters for the Rebels this season is senior quarterback Blake Decker. Although Decker finished fourth in the Mountain West in total offense, he was interception prone, throwing 18 picks against 15 touchdown passes. Decker, a senior, had a pretty good game last week in a losing effort against Northern Illinois, going 21-39, for319 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Decker also rushed 10 times for 35 yards. Backup quarterback, Kurt Palandech, played a bit against Northern Illinois, but he is more of a running threat. Palandech carried the rock five times for 42 yards and completed his only pass for a 10 yard gain. UCLA should be ready to guard against the run when Palandech is in at quarterback.

Running Back:

Keith Whitely, who had 118 carries for 504 yards in 2014, will get the majority of the carries for UNLV this season. Last week, Whitely carried the ball 21 times for 68 yards, a paltry 3.2 yards per carry average. George Naufahu and Lexington Thomas each also got a handful of carries last week, and should spell Whitely from time to time. None of these backs should strike fear in the hearts of UCLA’s front seven, even without Eddie Vanderdoes helping to anchor the defensive line.

Wide Receiver:

Another returning starter from 2014 is Devonte Boyd. Boyd, a sophomore, is UNLV’s most dynamic player on offense. As a freshman last season, Boyd hauled and 65 passes for 980 yards. He also scored four touchdowns, was named to the freshman All-American team. Take a look at some of Boyd’s highlights from his freshman year in this YouTube clip:

Last week against the Northern Illinois Huskies, Boyd grabbed five balls for 107 yards, including a 64 yard pass for a touchdown. The Bruins will need to lock down Boyd and keep him in check.

UNLV also returns another sophomore receiver who had a nice freshman campaign in 2014, Kendal Keys. Keys had 24 catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns last season. Against NIU last week, Keys caught six balls for 61 yards.

Seniors Aaron Criswell and Anthony Williams (another returning starter), are also solid targets, with Criswell catching three balls for 61 yards and one touchdown last week against NIU, and Williams catching five balls for 52 yards with no touchdowns.

Tight End:

UNLV senior tight end, Jake Phillips, has had a strange career, as his production has steadily declined since his freshman year in 2012, when he caught 23 passes for 232 yards. Two years ago he grabbed 19 passes for 143 yards, and last season he only hauled in five balls for 67 yards. Last week against Northern Illinois, Phillips had one catch for 23 yards. Phillips’ backup, Junior Andrew Price, has only caught four passes in his first two seasons at UNLV.

Offensive Line:

UNLV only returns one starter from its offense of line, sophomore left tackle Kyle Saxelid, who made five starts last season as a true freshman. As such, the Rebels’ offensive line is in rebuilding mode.


UNLV’s offensive situation is eerily similar to the University of Virginia’s offense, which the Bruin defense handled last week. Like Virginia, UNLV returns a relatively experienced quarterback and an explosive wide receiver. Both teams are rebuilding their offensive lines and both teams do not use the tight end much. Both UNLV and Virginia have struggled to run the ball, both in 2014 and in their 2015 season openers.

That having been said, UNLV nearly upset Northern Illinois on the road last weekend, falling 38-30.

Since Virginia had some success in passing the ball against UCLA last weekend, I expect new UNLV Head Coach Tony Sanchez (who coached at Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School last year) to try to throw the ball a lot against UCLA. Even with the loss of Eddie Vanderdoes, UNLV, like Virginia, will likely struggle to run the ball with a rebuilt offensive line against the stout front seven of UCLA. As it was against Virginia, I expect Coach Tom Bradley’s defensive unit to be up to the task against outmanned UNLV.

I hope you enjoyed Bruins Nation’s preview of the UNLV offense. If you have any additional insight or thoughts about UNLV’s offense, please feel free to post your remarks in the comment section below.

I hope that you can make the road trip to Las Vegas this weekend (and not lose your shirt in the process)!

And, as always, Goooo Bruins!!!