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WSU Vs. UNLV: A First Look At The Runnin' Rebels

On September 9th, 1978, the UNLV football team played its first game as a Division 1 team.  They lost that game to the same opponent they will be facing on September 10th, 2011.  The score was 34-7 that day, and Coug fans hope to see a similar ending come Saturday.

This fun fact was brought to you by the UNLV football Wikipedia page. Other highlights from the page include the author referring to the Runnin' Rebels as a "powerhouse" on more than one occasion.  There is also a brag about their undefeated bowl streak (they are 3-0....Notre Dame looks longingly at that record).

In summation: UNLV is the greatest football program in the history of the planet, or something like that.

This game also pits former successful Big Sky coaches against each other. Former Big Sky coaches who have combined for an 8-43 record in FBS. I hope everyone brought their pillows! Do yoga pants count as pajamas? If so, then these ladies will be dressed perfectly for the meet-up.

UNLV's program since 2005 is one that WSU fans look upon with their noses in the air and say "Man, how could anybody be that bad?" The Rebels are 18-54 over that span and have won just 9 Mountain West Conference gmes.

I mentioned the pillows, right? Some more actual analysis with talk of football stuffs after the jump.

OFFENSE: 17.0 PPG, 4.5 YPP

UNLV runs their offense out of a pistol formation with mostly standard personnel groupings (3 WR, TE, RB).  The Rebels gave their last opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers, a heavy dose of short passes and read option.  Judging by the strengths of their quarterback and the rest of their offense, this is likely going to be their game plan going forward.

Quarterback Caleb Herring is the leader of the offense and will be making the second start of his UNLV career in Pullman.  He is very shifty and has a pretty good feel for the zone read run (at least when it comes time for him to keep the football). He completed 66% of his passes against UNLV, but most of those passes were quick throws to the outside and short slants.  When Herring tried to throw the ball past ten yards he struggled with his accuracy.  Herring us definitely a threat to scramble, and seems to look for it for early.

Herring's favorite target is slot receiver Michael Johnson.  Johnson has the short, stalky build of a running back but does a good job of getting separation and will be a threat over the middle.  The outside guy that WSU will have to watch out for is Phillip Payne. Payne is a big target and the Rebels looked to him often when they were inside of the 30.  He caught a touchdown pass in the season opener.

Out of the backfield the key player is Tim Cornett. He had the bulk of the carries last season and led the team with 15 touches last Saturday.  Backup running back Bradley Randle had a very good game against the Badgers.  He carried the ball 12 times for a team-high 65 yards and also caught two passes for 35.

While the Rebel offense is not a "powerhouse", they will certainly be a step up in competition from the Idaho State Bengals.  The linebackers will be have to be disciplined on the read option.  Herring is very good at holding the ball until the last moment and deceiving the defenders.  Johnson and Payne could give the WSU corners, who struggled against ISU, some trouble on the outside.  Although it has yet to be seen if Herring can actually make teams pay downfield.

Overall, UNLV is a team that has the potential to put up points.  They were driving into Wisconsin territory with regularity in the first half, only to have several drives stall around the red zone.  Herring is talented and seems to be very conscious of avoiding the back-breaking mistake.  The Cougar defense will have to step up their game from the opening weekend if they want to come through with a good performance.


Wisconsin had absolutely no trouble with the UNLV defense.  Their gigantic offensive line was opening up gaping holes for their running backs, leading to 6.3 yards per carry.  That number was assuredly much higher in the first half, where the Badgers were gashing the Rebels twenty yards at a time.

UNLV's pass defense wasn't much better.  Partly because they often committed extra defenders in the box to stop the run (so much for that) and partly because they cannot cover anyone.  Wisconsin quarterbacks completed 11/15 passes for 258 yards.  That's 17.2 yards per pass attempt.  It would have been even worse had the QB not missed a tight end on a wide open seam route that would have surely gone for a fifty yard touchdown in the first quarter (the closest person to the tight end was a Wisconsin receiver...who was five yards away).

So what does the Rebels' poor performance against Wisconsin mean for the Cougs? Well, don't expect WSU to go out and shred UNLV like the Badgers did. The other UW is one of the best offenses in the country, thanks in large part to their dominant front five.  WSU can't match them there.

However, there is little evidence to suggest that this defense is any good.  It will be very interesting to see if Marshall Lobbestael can take advantage of what seems to be a porous secondary and if the offensive line can have their second straight dominating performance.

UNLV is in trouble if...WSU defense stays disciplined and renders the read-option ineffective.  Most of the successful plays UNLV had against Wisconsin seemed to come off that in some way, be it through the run or play-action pass.  If WSU's defense struggles, we could see a shootout in Martin Stadium.