Arizona's defense faired well throughout the opener of the season, shutting out NAU and only allowing two field goal attempts, both of which were missed. The Wildcats will have a tougher test when the Rebels take the field in their home opener.
UNLV lost the first game of the season to Minnesota 51-23. The Rebels had plenty of chances to keep the game close, but ultimately were unable to do so with plenty of missed chances left on the field.
They jumped out to an early lead, but were eventually overpowered by the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Runnin' Rebels are led by sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry. He had a rough game in the opener, but still managed to throw for 226 yards, completing 35 of 50 passes. Sherry also threw two touchdowns, but they were offset by two interceptions.
One of those picks was also returned for touchdown. When Sherry tried to recuperate and drive his team back down the field, he threw another interception. If the Wildcats can cause a few mistakes, the sophomore may start to snowball with the pressure building on.
When Sherry went to the air, he found several of his favorite targets, spreading 36 completions out amongst ten different receivers.
Maika Mataele led all receivers with nine receptions, but had just 43 yards receiving. Many of his catches were for short yardage and he was often found on third downs.
Junior receiver Davante Davis led the receivers with 77 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Senior transfer Jerry Rice, Jr. also got in on the action for the Runnin' Rebels, catching six passes for 35 yards.
Against Minnesota, UNLV nearly had as many rushing yards as passing yards. One of the most explosive players on the field is Shaquille Murray-Lawrence.
The junior college transfer rushed just four times last Thursday, but ended up with 108 yards on the ground.
Despite being the starting running back, Tim Cornett was only the second best running back on the team last week, carrying the ball twenty times for just 86 yards.
Cornett did have the lone rushing touchdown. It came early in the game, but he was slowed down considerably after the score.
Arizona will need to be tough on first and second downs against UNLV. The Rebels moved the ball efficiently when forced with short yardage situations. Screen passes and short slants worked well in the opener and the Wildcats will need to force long third downs in order to shut down the Runnin' Rebels.
Players to watch:
#3- QB, Nick Sherry: The sophomore had an up and down game against Minnesota. He led a successful drive to start the game, but threw two interceptions as his team was trying to claw its way back into the game. Sherry will be trying to bounce back and Arizona will need to stop him.
#33- RB, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence: The big play potential for Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is something that should concern the Wildcats. Murray-Lawrence broke off a 68-yard run over the weekend and had over a hundred yards rushing on just four carries.
#35- RB, Tim Cornett: The senior is the Runnin' Rebels featured back, though he had a slightly less productive game than Murray-Lawrence. Cornett has the ability to make big plays and hurt defenses. Arizona did a good job stopping the run a week ago, so it will be interesting to see if it can slow Cornett.
#81- WR, Devante Davis: The junior was the receiving yards leader in the opener, but didn't have as many catches as his teammate, Mataele. With Arizona's passing defense being a weak point a season ago, the Wildcats will have to key in on the speedy Davis.
#87- WR, Maika Mataele: The senior transfer from Oregon State was the benefactor of several short passes on his way to a team-high nine catches. Mataele was a go-to guy on short yardage downs. Look for him to get involved more on short plays if the defense is shutting down the deep passing lanes.
Keys to the game:
1. Turnovers: UNLV had some issues holding onto the ball in the opener. Arizona's defense did all they could to shake up Kyren Poe for NAU and benefited from it in the form of three interceptions. The Wildcats need to win the turnover battle in the game.
2. Limit big plays: With Murray Lawrence averaging over twenty yards per carry, the Wildcats will have to limit the amount of big-yardage plays. If Arizona can be successful on first and second downs, the SWAT defense should be able to hold up on third downs.
3. Handle the road: Arizona is playing in the second game of the year and the first road game of the season. Some players looked a little nervous coming out in the first half against NAU, but settled down for a big second half. The Wildcats, especially the younger defenders, need to handle the road pressure in order to support the defense.