The Washington State Cougars travel to Las Vegas to take on the UNLV Rebels at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN Friday night. The Cougars are still looking to improve on both sides of the ball in their last game before Pac-12 play begins. The Rebels are trying to bounce back from a loss to FCS Northern Arizona last Saturday.
The UNLV offense appeared to have its best offensive performance, based on the score, in their season opener against Minnesota. That was actually a low-scoring game, tied at 13-13, before it headed into overtime. The Rebels racked up 14 more points in the three overtime periods, when they were able to start from the 25 yard line.
The Rebels struggled to 4.4 yards per play (YPP) against the Golden Gophers and turned the ball over three times. All but one of UNLV's scoring drives began in Minnesota territory, with the lone exception being the drive to tie the game with a field goal at the end of regulation. Even that was aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Minnesota.
So don't be fooled by the 27-point performance in that opener, the Rebel offense struggled to sustain drives and needed a lot of help from the Gophers to score.
The offense fared much better against in terms of efficiency against Northern Arizona last Saturday. The Rebels put up 5.6 YPP on the Lumberjacks, and were able to jump out to an early 14-0 lead. They were ultimately undone by their inability to get past midfield, and NAU came back in the second half to score the upset.
UNLV's offense isn't a good one, and could very well have less talent than the Eastern Washington team that WSU faced last Saturday. Some of their inconsistencies on offense could likely be explained by their use of a freshman under center.
Redshirt freshman Nick Sherry won the starting quarterback job over incumbent Caleb Herring in camp. The change was probably one that needed to be made, as Herring averaged just 91 yards passing per game in 2011.
Sherry has struggled with accuracy in his first two starts. completing just 50 percent of his passes. He has also thrown three interceptions to just one touchdown in 64 attempts.
The 6'5, 235-pound Sherry was a two-star recruit coming out of high school and held offers from Colorado and San Diego State. He is not much of a threat to break the pocket and take off running. He has all the makings of the traditional pocket passer.
Click the jump for previews of the wide receivers, running backs, and offensive line.
Just like at the quarterback position, UNLV's pass-catchers are young. The top five players on the team in terms of receptions are all freshmen or sophomores.
Marcus Sullivan leads the Rebels in receptions at seven for 73 yards. The 5'9 175-pound wideout is also a threat in the kick return game.
Devante Davis is second on the team with six catches, but he has only gained 35 yards on those grabs. Davis has scored the lone touchdown for the unit. The sophomore saw limited action in his freshman season, catching just four passes.
Freshman Anthony Williams has been the big play threat, as his three catches have gone for 70 yards. The 5'11 receiver out of California's De La Salle High School was lightly recruited, as held no other offers from FBS programs.
The starting tight end, redshirt freshman Jake Phillips, is a big body to deal with. The 6'6, 240-pound Phillips has five catches for 69 yards through two games.
The lone senior that gets significant playing time in the group is Eric Johnson. He missed their opener against Minnesota, but made some big catches against Northern Arizona, with two receptions for 44 yards. The 5'7, 175-pound junior college transfer will be playing just his second game for the Rebels, as he came to the program midway through the 2011 season. Johnson is quick, and is the primary punt returner.
With the exception of Phillips, this receiving corps is much smaller than the one the Cougar defense faced on Saturday, but they appear to be quicker group. WSU must be solid in tackling to avoid allowing their receiving corps to bust out big plays.
With the combination of inexperience at the receiver positions and quarterback for UNLV, expect some erratic play as they get acquainted to game speed and the offense.
Tim Cornett is UNLV's workhorse out of the backfield, having carried the ball 50 times in the first two games. He returns as the team's leading rusher a season ago, when he ran for 671 yards. He has been effective with the ball in his hands, averaging 5.4 yards per carry (YPC) and scoring three touchdowns.
The effectiveness drops off after Cornett. Bradley Randle has 23 carries for 86 yards and one touchdown, good for just 3.9 YPC.
Dionza Bradford led the Rebels in carries a season ago, but he left the team earlier in this season.
Other than Cornett, Randle, and Bradford, no other running back has carried the ball for the Rebels. No wide receiver has a carry, either. Although, it would not be a surprise to see Johnson get a chance at a run from his receiver spot.
Expect a heavy dose of Cornett, as he is the team's most talented back and possibly the Rebels' best weapon on offense.
The big guys up front have allowed five sacks in approximately 69 drop-backs this season. If the Rebels were to continue throwing the ball at the same clip, that would total out to about thirty sacks on the year. Not terrible. It helps that the Rebels return all five starters from a season ago.
UNLV has some size on the left side of the line, with 6'7, 310-pound Brett Boyko at left tackle and 6-6, 300-pound Cameron Jefferson at left guard.
Sophomore Robert Waterman lines up at center. He checks in at 6'2, 290 and has been named to the 2012 Rimington Award watch list.
On the right side, senior Yusef Rodgers anchors the tackle spot. He is the smallest along the line, measuring 6'2, 270. At right guard is Doug Zismann, who was named as honorable mention on Phil Steele's preseason All-Mountain West team.
The group has done a nice job in the run game, as running backs have average 4.8 YPC overall. Expect line play to be improved over the last time WSU met with UNLV.
The Rebels offense is certainly not a threatening one, but like their WSU counterparts, they have a lot of room for improvement and seem to be headed in the right direction. There aren't a bunch of guys that jump out as threatening playmakers, but with a strong-armed quarterback and some speed, the Cougs must always be aware of the possibility for a quick strike.
Eastern Washington may have been more talented at the skill positions, but UNLV should be better at controlling the line of scrimmage.
All in all, don't expect UNLV to run up a bunch of points on a Cougar defense that has showed itself to be, at the very least, competent so far this season.
Credit to cfbstats.com, Football Outsiders, and UNLV's official site for the statistics in the piece. Stay with CougCenter all week for the most comprehensive coverage of WSU's visit to Las Vegas.