UNLV Preview

The UNLV Rebels have struggled for years now, failing to reach three or more wins since head coach Mike Sanford took over in 2005. The Rebels already have half the wins they did in 2007 but the rest of 2008 looks to be an uphill battle.

2008 Record: 1-1 (0-1 Mountain West)

Head Coach: Mike Sanford

OFFENSE

*Projected starters

WR Ryan Wolfe, JR
WR Rodelin Anthony, JR
LT Matt Murphy, SO
LG Johan Asiata, SR
C John Gianninoto, SO
RG Joe Hawley, JR
RT Evan Marchal, SO
QB Omar Clayton, SO
RB Frank Summers, SR
WR Casey Flair, SR
WR Phillip Payne, FR

The early parts of this season have given Rebel fans some reason for hope. Perhaps the biggest development in Las Vegas is the rapid maturation and improvement of sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton. The former walk-on made his presence felt when he put up some eye popping numbers when giving a chance in 2007. Unfortunately, his interception numbers were also high so there was some doubt surrounding the young quarterback.

However, 2008 has been an entirely different story. Clayton has yet to throw an interception and has recorded over 350 yards and four touchdowns in two games. His rushing numbers have been a bit subdued though and he has been able to gain only 15 yards on 12 carries so far.

Senior running back Frank Summers will receive a majority of the carries for the Rebel offense. Summers was productive for UNLV in his first season with the team logging over 900 yards on 202 carries with six touchdowns. The team leader is off to a similar start this year rushing for just over 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first two games. Behind Summers is Phoenix, Ariz. native Channing Trotter. Trotter is somewhat of an unknown at this point with only 18 career carries but has been productive when called upon. Rebel coaches have gone on record speaking highly of his big play ability.

At 6'1" 210 pounds, wide receiver Ryan Wolfe is arguably the Rebels' best offensive player. After productive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior is off to another hot start. So far he has caught 17 balls for 167 yards and two touchdowns, well on pace to set career highs in all three categories. Freshman wide receiver Phillip Payne has been a pleasant surprise for a team in search for more playmakers. Standing tall at 6'4" the young wide receiver is showing potential to do great things. He has touchdowns in each of his first two games as a collegiate athlete. This is a team that does not seem to utilize a tight end commonly and often runs offensive sets with several receivers.

DEFENSE

*Projected starters

DE Heivaha Mafi, JR
DT Malo Taumua, SO
DT Jacob Hales, SR
DE Thor Pili, SR
SAM Jason Beauchamp, JR
MIKE Ronnie Paulo, SO
WILL Nate Carter, FR
FS Terrence Lee, JR
SS Daryl Forte, JR
CB Quinton Pointer, SO
CB Geoff Howard, SR

The UNLV defense suffered a serious blow in last week's game against Utah when linebacker Starr Fuimaono suffered a knee injury and was lost for several weeks. Fuimaono was probably the team's best defensive player and there was a noticeable drop off in the play of the defense against Utah once he went down.

Junior Jason Beauchamp will take Fuimaono's place as the SAM linebacker. Inside linebacker Ronnie Paulo was also injured in the game against Utah, but his injury was less severe. Paulo suffered a bruised leg and should not miss any time. Paulo's presence will be important for the Rebels as he is the team's leading tackler.

Senior Thor Pili, a transfer from the University of Oregon, and JUCO transfer Heivaha Mafi lead the way at defensive end. The two players are of very different styles though, Pili supplying the run defense and Mafi supplying the pass rush. Another transfer, Jacob Hales (Southern Utah), is probably the best player on the defensive line and will be counted on heavily to slow down the Sun Devils' rushing attack.

Malo Taumua will probably garner the most playing time at the tackle spot next to Hales. After a productive sophomore season, the junior is looking to build upon his three sacks and five and a half tackles for loss.

Geoffrey Howard is the leader of the cornerbacks for the Rebels. The senior has the onus of replacing two quality cornerbacks that the Rebels have lost the last couple of years. Junior safety Daryl Forte will play a big role in the success of the UNLV defensive backfield. He was second on the team in tackles in 2007 with 94 and also had a sack and interception. Quinton Pointer will see plenty of time at cornerback and the sophomore has shown spikes of potential and promise in his short career so far.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Ben Jaekle, SO
P Kyle Watson, JR
PR Casey Flair, SR
KR Quinton Pointer, SO

Ben Jaekle and Kyle Watson have split of the kicking duties so far this year. Both have attempted one field goal and both have made their lone attempt. No clear winner appears to have emerged from the two kickers and they could continue to be used situationally. Casey Flair is a seasoned, crafty veteran who could turn a couple punt returns into big momentum shifting plays.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR ARIZONA STATE

- Downfield Passing: UNLV has some relatively green cornerbacks and with the way Sun Devils' quarterback Rudy Carpenter has been throwing the ball this could be a dangerous match up for the Rebels. The other issue that makes this key for the Sun Devils is UNLV's lack of a pass rush. This will be a good chance for the ASU offensive linemen to gain confidence heading into the showdown vs. Georgia.

- Getting the Tight Ends Involved: With UNLV's Fuimaono sidelined the maroon and gold tight ends should find success in the passing game. So far the ASU tight ends have not had too big of a role in on the field outside of blocking and with a weakened UNLV linebacker group it would make sense for Carpenter to attack over the middle.

- Time of Possession: There is no question that Arizona State is the superior team. If the Sun Devils can stay on the field and tire out the Rebels this will really show the difference between the two teams. If UNLV is able to sustain long drives and wear down the Sun Devil defense then they will have a better chance to make plays and keep themselves in the game.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR UNLV

- Special Teams: If UNLV wants to have any chance in this game they are going to have to exceptional on special teams. Whether it be a blocked kick or a return for a touchdown the Rebels will almost assuredly need a big play on special teams to pull off the upset.

- Get Omar Clayton Outside the Pocket: If Clayton is able to escape the pocket, utilize his mobility and pick up chunks of rushing yardage it will really keep the Sun Devils defense off balance. If Arizona State continues to improve its pass rush and Clayton is not able to scramble it could be a long night for the young signal caller.

- Take the Crowd Out of the Game: If the Rebels are able to put up some early scores or long, clock killing drives in the first half it could really silence the fans. Sun Devil fans have built up a reputation over the past several years for being loud and raucous, so the sooner the Rebels can quiet them the better their offense will function.


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