Game Preview- Utah vs. UNLV

Both teams open their 2010 conference schedule with a battle at Rice Eccles Stadium...

Game Preview

Facts and Factors

No. 20 Utah (1-0, 0-0 MWC) hosts UNLV (0-1, 0-0 MWC) in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised live on the Mtn. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com).

Utah's home win streak now stands at 18 games after a 27-24 overtime victory over Pitt last Thursday. It is the second-longest home win streak in school history. The school record of 26 was set from 1928-34. Utah's current home win streak dates back to a Sept. 15, 2007 victory over 11th-ranked UCLA.

Utah's 18-game home win streak is the third-longest active home win streak in the nation behind Oklahoma (31) and Boise State (26).

Utah is ranked No. 20 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' polls. It marks Utah's first appearance in the A.P. poll this season. Utah was ranked No. 24 in the first coaches' poll.

UNLV was also Utah's first conference opponent (and second opponent of the season) in 2008. The Utes won that game, 42-21, in Salt Lake City on Sept. 6.

Utah leads the series with UNLV 13-2, including a 7-0 advantage in Salt Lake City. See box on page 2 for more series information.

Utah's win over Pittsburgh was its 20th over a BCS school since the Bowl Championship Series began in 1998. In its final year in a non-automatic qualifying conference, Utah has more wins against BCS teams than any other NAQ program and is 20-11 overall against the BCS since 1998.

Ute receiver DeVonte Christopher and safety Brian Blechen were named the MWC offensive and defensive player of the week, respectively. Christopher led Utah with a career-high 155 receiving yards, while Blechen, playing in his first collegiate game, had five tackles and an interception in overtime.

When Utah has the ball

Utah looked much more explosive in the win over Pitt than their 27 points would indicate. Turnovers and missed opportunities took 7-14 points off of the board. The running game wasn't featured as much as most people would have anticipated with Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata only accounting for 25 carries between them. That should change this week, especially if Jordan Wynn doesn't play.

Terrance Cain is one of the best backups in the country and can both hand off to the star running backs and throw for 300 yards.

DeVonte Christopher showed that he can be that second receiver alongside Jereme Brooks. If he can put half the numbers he did against Pitt, the coaches will be happy.

The Utes are going to score points… a lot of them.

Advantage- Utah

When UNLV has the ball

UNLV has made the move from a spread offense under Mike Sanford to more of a power running game under Bobby Hauck. The spread seemed to suit quarterback Omar Clayton over the past few years as he used both his arm and his legs to make plays. Now that the power running game has been introduced, Clayton has been pushed aside and junior Mike Clausen, more of prototypical quarterback that is going to hand off and make the necessary throws, has assumed the quarterback throne. Both players saw action in week 1 against Wisconsin and both struggled going a combined 10-26 for only 105 yards.

Channing Trotter and C.J. Cox are both serviceable running backs, but neither is a game breaker by any means. They combined for 25 yards on 8 carries against Wisconsin. The two backs need to run for over 100 combined and at least 5 yards per carry for the Rebels to have any chance against Sealver Siliga, Dave Kruger, and the surprising linebackers.

Siliga was a beast against Pitt, constantly blowing up plays and making it tough for Dion Lewis to do anything. UNLV has a weak interior line and there's no reason to think that he and Kruger shouldn't be able to do the same this week. The tackles for UNLV are two of the better ones in the conference in Evan Marchal and Matt Murphy, but The Utah defensive ends got the better of the Pitt tackles last week, and their tackles are even better than the Rebels throw out. The trio of Christian Cox, Junior Tui'one, and Derrick Shelby might be looking at a big day.

The linebacking corp for the Utes was much better in game 1 than anticipated and there's no reason to think they won't duplicate the feat in game 2. Chaz Walker and Chad Manis had strong games, and if J.J. Williams gets a chance to play, they could be even better.

UNLV has arguably the top wide receiver in the Mountain West in Phillip Payne. Utah counters with arguably the top cornerback in the Mountain West in Brandon Burton. The battle between these two could go a long way in this either be a somewhat competitive game and a blowout. The Utes showed they could be beat by the big play against Pitt on a 44 yard touchdown strike. Payne is going to need to put up a few of those to keep UNLV in the game.

Advantage- Utah

Special Teams-

The Utes looked shaky in the punting game last week, but a lot of that can be attributed to 3 plays. A fumble by Shaky Smithson while trying to field a punt he should have let go, a blocked kick, and a shank by Sean Sellwood in the fourth quarter. That won't happen again this week, but the Utes need to shore that up going forward. UNLV has a young punter and an inexperienced kicker. Utah has an experienced, clutch kicker and a punter with a big leg. Both teams are about average in the return game.

Advantage- Utah

Intangibles

Outside of a 2007 27-0 UNLV victory, the Utes have owned the series, and have never lost at home to the Rebels (7-0). Utah won 35-15 in Las Vegas in 2009.

The Utes are riding an 18 game home winning streak while UNLV has a record of 4-32 on the road since 2004. 2 of those wins have come in the state of Utah against BYU (2004) and Utah State (2007).

The weather should be fairly mild with temperatures at kickoff expected to be 73 degrees with little wind favoring the more finesse oriented Utes.

Utah officials are expecting either a sell-out or near sell-out at Rice Eccles Stadium. Last week's crowd against Pitt was the third largest ever at the stadium.

Advantage- Utah

Coaching

Bobby Hauck had great success at Montana, but borrowing from Dan Hawkins, this isn't 1-AA brother. Few coaches have made a successful transition from a lower division to Division 1 (aka FBS) and outside an even smaller few like Jim Tressel, that success is rarely immediate. Hauck can coach, but Kyle Whitingham and staff do it better. It isn't Hauck's fault that he has two top 20 teams to open the season and inferior players, but he'll find out very quickly that he needs to be competitive if he wants to stick around. Aaron Roderick called a great game against Utah, negating the defensive ends and opening up the passing game. Kalani Sitake and the Utes' D held Dion Lewis to a career low rushing total. Both coaches are underrated.

Advantage- Utah

Prediction

This game is a mismatch in every facet of the game. The Utes are good, very good. The Rebels are bad, and could be very bad. UNLV just doesn't have the players, depth, or coaching to hang with the Utah for more than a quarter or two.

Regardless of whether Jordan Wynn or Terrance Cain is under center for the Utes, they should be able to put up points in bunches. UNLV needs to settle on a quarterback and quickly. I'm confused as to why Clayton isn't the guy. Unless UNLV can force 4+ turnovers and bring 1 or 2 of those back for touchdowns, they don't stand much of a chance.

Utah made a ton of mistakes against the 15th ranked team in the nation last week and still won. They won't make nearly the same number of mistakes this week as they punish the Rebels putting up over 500 yards of offense, including over 250 on the ground, and hold UNLV under 250.

Punter Sean Sellwood takes the first three quarters off.

Utah 48 UNLV 14


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