Preview: UNLV

West Virginia looks to bounce back as it plays host to a beat-up UNLV team Saturday. Game Scorecard
Sat 10/9/10 3:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 3-1
Last Game
LSU L 14-20
TV: Big East Network
Radio: MSN
Record: 1-4
Last Game
Nevada L 26-44
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: 2010
Last Meeting: ----
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


WVU – RB Noel Devine (Foot), Questionable; DL Donovan Pearson (Toe), Questionable; OL Josh Jenkins (Leg), Questionable; DE Will Clarke (Ankle), Questionable.

UNLV – Out: WR Mark Barefield (leg), DB Courtney Bridget (shoulder), DL Kjelby Oiland (undetermined), LB Beau Orth (back), DB Travis Dixon (leg), DB Quinton Pointer (leg), RB Imari Thompson (foot), LB Travis Trickey (back), OL Shane Watterson (leg). Doubtful: RB C.J. Cox (arm), DE Daniel Mareko (arm). Questionable: DE Preston Brooks (foot), QB Omar Clayton (undetermined), DL James Dunlap (arm), LB Starr Fuimaono (foot), FB/LS Anthony White (leg). Probable: DE B.J. Bell (arm), LB Nate Carter (arm), DB Mike Clausen (leg), DB Sidney Hodge (arm), LB Ronnie Paulo (arm), WR Marcus Sullivan (undetermined), RB Channing Trotter (leg), TE Anthony Vidal (leg), OL Doug Zismann (back).


WVU Offense vs. UNLV defense

West Virginia's issues have centered more on itself than what other teams have done to slow it. Turnovers, missed assignments and breakdowns in key situations hindered many of the chances for an upset win at LSU. And now that WVU appears close to full strength in health terms, and could welcome back Josh Jenkins and, potentially, Noel Devine, the challenge is to avoid hurting itself more than offsetting what the opponent does defensively.

UNLV is, frankly, nowhere near West Virginia in ability or depth. The Rebels have allowed fewer than 30 points in just one game and have given up 38-plus points three times. They struggle with rushing defense and lack the interior ability in the 4-3 set to counter many BCS lines and adequately pressure the pocket. The Rebs are also adjusting to a first-year staff under new head coach Bobby Hauck, who had great success at Montana. He was able to bring defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson from Montana, where the former UM fullback oversaw a Grizzlies' defense than consistently ranked in the top tier of the FCS in turnovers. Montana picked off 26 passes last year while leading the FCS in turnovers gained with 37.

But while the schemes haven't changed much, the personnel and opposition has. UNLV is quite experienced, albeit in another system, but lacks a great edge rusher that Paulson is used to, and is trying to use a committee-style approach to getting adequate pressure. That has been a sizeable part of the pass defense issue, though the corners have at times given up big plays as well. Wisconsin's sizeable line sealed the pocket well when the Badgers chose to pass, and allowed John Clay to run for 123 yards with zero lost. Utah's Eddie Wide netted 77, zero lost, and the entire Utes team lost just one yard during the game. Foes have already gained more than 1,000 yards rushing on the Rebels, and the match-ups would indicate West Virginia should be able to move the ball on the ground.

UNLV's line is centered around Isaako Aaitui, 6-4, 315 lbs. The senior defensive tackle isn't the unit's best playmaker, but he can eat up a couple blockers and free linebackers and the ends to make plays on the interior. Fellow senior Preston Brooks is solid on the edge, and has 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Middle linebacker Ronnie Paulo leads the team with 36 tackles, zero for loss. Strongside ‘backer Calvin Randleman, another senior, leads the team with three tackles for losses in 30 stops with a single sack.

WVU might be tested in punching through to the second level and holding off Paulo and Randlemen. That's something Wisconsin and Utah did with great success out of power sets, and something WVU should be able to muster out of the I formation. UNLV's ability to scrape down the line and tackle when facing single-back, spread looks will be tested against the Mountaineers more than any other foe thus far, and is among the chief concerns for Paulson. The Rebels lack WVU's speed and cutting ability, and have already been ripped through enough that strong safety Alex DeGiacomo is the team's second-leading tackler with 33.

It's tough to imagine UNLV seeing anything it hasn't yet from West Virginia in a pure alignment and playcalling aspect. Wisconsin's power, Nevada's pistol and Utah's all-around schemes are about as varied as one can find. But the overall speed could surprise an already beat-up defense, and with a week's rest the Mountaineers should roll in this one. Expect big offensive numbers from the home team – and for it to get past the 30-point mark for the first time this year.

By The Numbers
West Virginia UNLV
Scoring Offense 25 ppg Scoring Defense 32.6 ppg
Rushing Offense 149 ypg Rushing Defense 203.8 ypg
Passing Offense 229.8 ypg Passing Defense 186.6 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Defense vs. UNLV Offense

UNLV is built to run. West Virginia is built to stop it – and it has in each of the previous contests this season. The Rebels, led by tailback Channing Trotter's 30 yard-per-game average, are totaling only 108 yards per game on the ground. Backs aren't being given adequate time or room, quarterback Omar Clayton has had issues with accuracy (mainly because UNLV falls behind, allowing defenses to rush the pocket without the fear of a big run play), and as a result the team is getting itself into undesirable down-and-distance situations. That has resulted in a 33 percent third down conversion rate, booting the offense off the field and allowing foes to grind down a weary defense.

Las Vegas has experience on the left side, with two seniors in guard John Gianninoto and tackle Matt Murphy. It has a playmaker at wideout in Phillip Payne (6-3, 205 lbs.). And it's FB-RB duo have played together for two seasons. But the team is still learning a new offense under coordinator Rob Phenicie, whose Montana teams were known for toughness, ability to control the ball and pass efficiency. Phenicie is trying to instill the same physical style to UNLV, and it has shown some penchant for it. But it plays hesitant at times, and doesn't have near the raw power of teams like West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Look for the Rebels to try to test WVU with its run game. If that doesn't work well, expect short, safe passes from Clayton – who is listed as questionable with an undisclosed ailment. Clayton will likely play. If not, freshman Caleb Herring will get the call. Herring has completed seven of 12 passes this season, and doesn't run quite as well as Clayton. If he goes, expect West Virginia to continually attack the young player with a variety of blitzes, forcing him to make quick, sound choices or risk turnovers.

This match-up isn't ideal for UNLV. The Rebs are still trying to grasp portions of the offense while facing a unique look in the odd stack. WVU should be able to slow Trotter and handle the wideouts. From there, Clayton will be pressed to make some plays with his arm and feet, and that shouldn't be enough to beat West Virginia. There's just not enough octane in UNLV's passing game. If the Mountaineer offense gives the Rebels a short field or three during the game, though, UNLV could get into the 20s.

By The Numbers
West Virginia UNLV
Scoring Defense 14.5 ppg Scoring Offense 21.8 ppg
Rushing Defense 84.5 ypg Rushing Offense 107.6 ypg
Passing Defense 164.8 ypg Passing Offense 178.8 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Special Teams vs. UNLV Special Teams

It's tough to tell what version of West Virginia's units is going to show. It seems the Mountaineers improve in one area – such as kickoff coverage – then have a couple breakdowns on one play to allow a backbreaking punt return for score. WVU fields punts well after not doing so against Marshall, but misses two convertible field goals. It covers well in one area, then can't hold off blocks long enough to get a field goal off.

Though UNLV's special teams are not great, the Rebs are stout in returning kickoffs. Freshman wide receiver Marcus Sullivan is averaging 26.5 yards per return with a long of 68. The 5-9, 180-pounder has a good burst and can explode past coverage players. He isn't incredibly shifty, but has the cut-and-go north-south return ability coaches crave. WVU must break down and diffuse the Rebel blocking schemes while also shoring up its line play on field goals.

One doesn't hope for field goal chances as opposed to extra point tries, but it might behoove West Virginia's Tyler Bitancurt to get in a few game kicks here to test lift. West Virginia needs to show consecutive complete games in all phases of special teams, and has yet to do so. This might be the last week where a breakdown won't be immediate cause for concern from a win-loss perspective. But because there are still questions and UNLV has returned kickoffs well and made reasonable field goals, this remains a push.

By The Numbers
West Virginia UNLV
Net Punting 36 yards Net Punting 31.1 yards per punt
KO Returns 19 yards per return KO Returns 23.7 yards per return
Punt Returns 13 yards per return Punt Returns 8 yards per return

Advantage: Even


On Offense: Tyler Bitancurt

On Defense: Anthony Leonard.


West Virginia's defense should be able to take away what UNLV wants to do in running the football. The Mountaineer offense should be able to do as it needs with a week's rest against a beat-up and worn down foe: play power football, tune up the running game, get decent blocking, and make time for Geno Smith. If it doesn't happen this game, it might not this season. UNLV is under a first year staff with less talent, fewer playmakers and less depth. The match-ups are decent, West Virginia's at home. For the first time in awhile, look for a comfortable margin in a relatively easy game. This one goes to the Mountaineers.

WVU - 38 UNLV - 16

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