UNLV Q&A: Part 2

Here is the second installment of our Q&A with Mark Anderson, the UNLV football beat reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Badger Nation: Do you see the offense running more efficiently under Kurt Nantkes? How much do you see the offense changing with the change in quarterback style from Jason Thomas to Nantkes?

Anderson: Yes, partly because Nantkes' release is so much quicker than Thomas' so that the receivers know to expect the ball when they make their breaks. Also, Thomas gave up on plays too quickly and would take off, whereas Nantkes probably will try t give plays more of a chance to develop. The offense itself should change some with more backs catching passes, but that was promised last season and wasn't truly delivered. But maybe the hiring of Bruce Snyder as an offensive assistant will help that idea become a reality.

Badger Nation: What do you expect out of of UNLV's running game this year, with Larry Croom and Alvin Marshall getting the majority of the carries?

Anderson: The running game should be excellent. Larry Croom was the best back last season, but Joe Haro received the starts because he was coming off a 1,000-yard season and was a senior. But Croom averaged 7.2 yards a carry, which is astonishing. Of course, with more carries, that number figures to drop. Even so, Croom rushed for 222 yards on 20 carries against Colorado State. Having Marshall should relieve some pressure from Croom. Marshall came in with a big junior college reputation, and he looked sharp in spring practices. He helps give UNLV a running game that should rival any in the Mountain West Conference.

Badger Nation: From what you observed in the spring, have the question marks on the offensive line been answered?

Anderson: Tough to say. Offensive lines are always hard to gauge until the games start. The talent is there and the size is certainly there, so the coaches feel good about what they have going into the season. But lines also are about chemistry, and it often takes a while to develop that.

Badger Nation: After surrendering nearly 400 yards and more than 30 points a game last year, do you expect improvement defensively this season?

Anderson: The linebackers are among the nation's best, and they are getting heavily overlooked in the preseason magazines. UNLV clearly has the conference's best, and there isn't appropriate recognition given to that. Also, strong safety Jamaal Brimmer was the conference Defensive Player of the Year, and he plays more like an outside linebacker. Having said all that, there are serious questions. Expect a lot of 3-4 because of the strength of the linebackers and because there are so many questions with the line. There also will be a lot of inexperience in the secondary, particularly with the cornerbacks. So the linebackers are going to have to carry the defense and take chances. The defense will get burned on some of those chances, but it can't afford to be basic. So the bottom line is there will be a lot of big plays made and a lot given up. The Rebels have to hope there aren't too many given up.

Badger Nation: Where does Jamaal Brimmer rank amongst the players you've seen and covered over the years? Is he one of the top defensive players in the nation?

Anderson: Brimmer definitely is one of the best. I see him as an NFL player, and Robinson constantly compares him to Sammy Knight. Seems fair. This is a guy who looks like he could play in the league for a long time, and is among the best I've covered. Where he ranks is hard to say. Probably the best defender I covered in Reno was DeShone Myles, and Brimmer is better than him. Kevin Thomas, now with the Bills, was an outstanding cornerback and great playmaker. Comparing the two isn't easy because they are different types of players. Brimmer is more like a Sam Brandon, now with the Broncos, and I believe Brimmer could be better.

Badger Nation: Are there any sleepers on the defensive line that can help solidify that unit?

Anderson: Leon Moore, who will be a sophomore, looks like he is going to be a really good player. Chris Eagen came in with a lot of promise last season, but only partially fufilled it, so there is an opportunity for him to break out. Joe Oniwor has potential.

Badger Nation: Having seen the UNLV-Wisconsin matchup last season, what has to happen this year for the Rebels to pull the upset?

Anderson: A lot. The linebackers are going to have to take chances and blitz from all spots at different times. Brimmer is particularly good at getting to the quarterback. Disrupting Wisconsin's timing will be key. Also, the offense will have to keep the Badgers guessing defensively by handing off and throwing to backs out of the backfield. Getting Larry Croom, Alvin Marshall or Dominique Dorsey into the open field could create some big plays, which would make it easier for Earvin Johnson and Michael Johnson to catch passes. There are ways for the Rebels to at least stay close and maybe steal one, but they have to play an almost perfect game.

Badger Nation: How much did that loss hurt the Rebels' confidence heading into conference play last season? Between all of the turnovers and the lights going out midway through the fourth quarter, the entire night seemed like a disaster for UNLV.

Anderson: That game brought back all the questions that dogged the team the previous year. UNLV played poorly in a victory over Kansas and then was wiped out at Oregon State and Toledo and never truly recovered. So that game had a lot to do with it.

Badger Nation: I hate to put you on the spot here, but what is your record prediction and finish in the Mountain West for UNLV this season?

Anderson: I'll say 5-7 overall and 3-4 in the conference, so fourth or fifth in the league. Too many questions, and the schedule doesn't set up favorably.

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