UNLV 101: Offense has spark, but D has holes

UNLV AFTER WEEK 1 looks a lot like the 2010 Cougars. Rebuilding has clearly begun and they aren't the pushovers of a year before. They're young and growing but still have gaping holes to fill, particularly on D. They've found their QB and will go as far as he can carry them. It will be a long journey out of the cellar but the Rebs have enough firepower to threaten an upset or two along the way.

Cougars (1-0) vs Rebels (0-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION / WEBCAST:
None

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 14

LAST MEETING:
WSU won in Las Vegas in 1991 40-13.

THE SERIES:
%%MATCH_7%% State Leads 4-0.

CF.C PREDICTION:
See below

THE REBELS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Caleb Herring, QB: The promising sophomore will only be starting his second career game but he's the future at %%MATCH_9%%. He has a very quick release -- and fast feet when he sees daylight. He has good touch on his short throws but lacks accuracy on the longer routes. Herring was a solid 18-for-27 for 143 yards and two scores against No. 8 %%MATCH_8%%.
Tim Cornett, RB: He led the team with 587 yards as a freshman last season. Cornett is the fastest player on their team and works well in space. He managed 61 yards on 14 carries before the scoreboard disparity nullified him.
Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson, WRs: Payne is a high ball and red zone target, Johnson is a speedy short route receiver.

Overview
As long as the scoreboard accommodates, the Rebels try to run an up-tempo offense out of H-Back formations from the shotgun or pistol set. Cornett and the two receivers are the featured weapons. Herring makes plays with his feet, but only after the play breaks down. The Rebs have just one starter returning on the offensive line from last year -- they will be starting two freshmen and zero seniors. The offensive line is a serious concern. To cover the deficiency, the Rebs move the plays away from the center of the field, utilizing screens, misdirection, stretch plays, and stop routes.

Strategy
The Rebels weren't nearly as bad offensively against Wisconsin as the scoreboard indicates. They moved the ball well against the Badger starters but were undone by penalties and miscues by the offensive line. They also rushed for 146 yards. The QB, RB, and receivers are legitimate threats and must be respected. But an inconsistent offensive line will continue to hamper their potential. Blitz up the gut to disrupt the young line and keep Herring contained. Safeties need to focus their pass protection on the wings and make good open field tackles.

THE REBELS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Quinton Pointer, CB: It rarely comes down to their play but the Rebels have a couple of decent cornerbacks. Pointer is returning from knee surgery and should provide some help.

Princeton Jackson, LB: Logged five tackles including 1.5 for loss with a sack against Wisconsin last week. Overview
The Rebels return only three starters from one of the worst defenses in the country in ‘10. They gave up 450 yards per game last year with most of the damage coming on the ground. This season they are replacing both interior linemen and all the linebackers. The Rebels are extremely paranoid about their run defense and the opening game against Wisconsin was no elixir – they surrendered 499 yards of offense including 241 hashes on the ground. They operate out of the fairly basic 4-3 but are simply too young and undersized on the interior line. They can't help but put too much focus on the line of scrimmage and as a result the seams open up too easily at the second level.

Strategy
While the offense was better than the scoreboard suggests against Wisconsin, the defense was actually far worse. The Badgers scored at will against the Rebs. Their starters played only two full quarters and the second string let off the gas very early. The Badgers could have easily run up into the 70s. The Rebel D looked overwhelmed and intimidated. Marshall Lobbestael will likely operate out of a precision, short to mid passing game -- but he also shouldn't be afraid to test the secondary deep with something along the lines of the TD hook-up with Isiah Barton last week. The Rebels simply will be highly focused on run stopping out of the gate and opportunities deep could await.

THE REBELS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Sophomore kicker Nolan Kohurst is a returning starter but looked nervous at Camp Randall. He missed a 34 yard field goal on the opening drive, followed by another from 52, before banking in one off the upright from 37 yards. He was accurate from short range last year. The UNLV kick coverage looked sloppy.

FINAL THOUGHTS
- An inept defense will unravel against most offensive gameplans, but the Rebel offense has potential if they can stay on the field. - Wide receiver is the Rebels' strongest position and it should get a boost with the return of touted sophomore %%MATCH_10%% who did not travel to Madison. But if WSU pressures the QB effectively and consistently, UNLV will end up with a good number of incomplete passes in the stat book.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 41, Rebs 23


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