Rebels offense v. Badgers defense
QB Kurt Nantkes (Jr. 6-4, 225) DE Darius Jones (Jr. 6-3, 268)
WR Michael Johnson (Sr. 5-10, 190) DT Anttaj Hawthorne (Jr. 6-3, 300)
WR Earvin Johnson (Jr. 6-3, 200) DT Jason Jefferson (Jr. 6-3, 307)
FB Dyante Perkins (Jr. 6-0, 235) DE Jonathan Welsh (Jr. 6-4, 228)
RB Larry Croom (Sr. 5-10, 205) LB Kareem Timbers (Jr. 6-3, 209)
LT Matt Williams (Sr. 6-6, 300) LB Jeff Mack (Sr. 6-0, 244)
C Dominic Furio (Sr. 6-3, 295) CB Scott Starks (Jr. 5-10, 168)
RG Joe Critchfield (Jr. 6-4, 315) SS Ryan Aiello (Sr. 6-1, 196)
RT Zach Gorham (So. 6-5, 310) FS Jim Leonhard (Jr. 5-8, 183)
TE Greg Estandia (Jr. 6-8, 250) CB Brett Bell (Jr. 6-0, 193)
UNLV: RB Dominique Dorsey (Jr. 5-7, 160), TE Ryan Clifford (Sr. 6-2, 250), FB Andrew Faga (Sr. 6-0, 250), RB Alvin Marshall (Jr. 5-10, 190), RB Deon Burnett (Sr. 5-11, 215)
Wisconsin: LB LaMarr Watkins (So. 6-1, 216), FS Robert Brooks (Jr. 5-10, 179), SS Joe Stellmacher (Fr. 6-1, 198), DE Joe Monty (Fr. 6-2, 246), CB Levonne Rowan (So. 6-1, 178), DT Kalvin Barrett (Jr. 6-2, 316)
When the Rebels have the ball…
The first thing to look for is whether UNLV running back Larry Croom is playing. Croom had 105 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the first quarter against Kansas. On his eighth carry, a 60-yard touchdown run, however, Croom strained a muscle in his right thigh and finished the run moving gingerly into the end zone. He continued to play sparingly, sitting out most of the second half, and finished with 15 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Croom is considered 50-50 for Saturday.
Croom is a huge part of UNLV's offense. He has run for 225 yards and caught nine passes for 66 yards this season. If Croom cannot play, the complexion of the Rebels offense will change significantly, placing more of the burden on UNLV's talented quarterback, Kurt Nantkes. The Rebels have a pair of quality receivers in Michael Johnson and Earvin Johnson and an intimidating presence in big tight end Greg Estandia, who caught two late touchdowns passes against Toledo.
The running game shouldn't disappear, though, if Croom cannot go. Top reserve Dominique Dorsey is a super-quick back who averages 6.9 yards per carry, but he is not known for his durability. The team also has talent in highly-touted junior college-transfer Alvin Marshall, who has been slowed by a foot injury, and senior Deon Burnett.
For Wisconsin there are two glaring questions. Can the team rebound after allowing more than 500 yards to Akron? And perhaps more importantly, can the defensive line gut it out? UNLV's offensive line is big and talented—they have not allowed a sack this season and the Rebels running game is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. UNLV poses the biggest challenge to-date for Wisconsin's depleted, but still very talented, front four.
The Rebels also have more speed out of the backfield than either West Virginia or Akron and are more prone to use their backs in passing routes. This should open up the Badgers pass rush, but will also test Wisconsin's linebackers, who played well in coverage against West Virginia, but were run ragged by the Zips.
Wisconsin's secondary did a good job against the Johnson receivers last season, but this year have the added challenge of stopping Estandia, and will face a quarterback who is a better passer than Jason Thomas was.
The Badgers should be motivated for this one. They have to be tired of hearing renewed questions about Wisconsin's defensive fortitude and UNLV does pose the type of challenge that could sway some doubts, or embellish them further.
Badgers offense v. Rebels defense
Wisconsin projected starters UNLV projected starters
QB Jim Sorgi (Sr. 6-5, 190) DE Leon Moore (So. 6-5, 260)
TB Anthony Davis (Jr. 5-8, 191) DT Howie Fulmaono (Fr. 6-0, 320)
FB Matt Bernstein (So. 6-2, 273) DE Dietrich Canterberry (Sr. 6-4, 310)
WR Lee Evans (Sr. 5-11, 202) LB Reggie Butler (Jr. 6-0, 220)
WR Brandon Williams (So. 5-11, 170) LB Ryan Claridge (Jr. 6-4, 245)
LT Morgan Davis (Jr. 6-5, 326) LB Adam Seward (Jr. 6-2, 250)
C Donovan Raiola (So. 6-3, 290) CB Ruschard Dodd-Masters (Jr. 6-0, 180)
RG Jonathan Clinkscale (Jr. 6-3, 308) SS Jamaal Brimmer (Jr. 6-1, 210)
RT Mike Lorenz (So. 6-5, 313) FS Joe Miklos (So. 6-2, 205)
TE Tony Paciotti (Jr. 6-4, 263) CB Will Tagoai (Jr. 6-3, 205)
Wisconsin: WR/TE Owen Daniels (So. 6-3, 213), WR Jonathan Orr (So. 6-3, 190), WR Darrin Charles (Jr. 6-6, 210), TB Dwayne Smith (So. 5-11, 225), TE Jason Pociask (So. 6-3, 250), WR Ernest Mason (Fr. 5-11, 180)
UNLV: LB Zach Bell (Jr. 6-2, 230), DE Chris Eagen (Sr. 6-4, 270), DE Brian Nicholson (Jr. 6-5, 275), CB Ernest Gordon (Fr. 6-0, 165)
When Wisconsin has the ball…
Which UNLV defense will show up? The Rebels were atrocious against Kansas last week, yielding 546 yards and four touchdowns, three in the second half. The Jayhawks won 46-24 and averaged 5.75 yards per carry and 8.71 yards per pass attempt. UNLV, though, held Toledo to 239 yards in 28-18 victory, giving up just 3.79 yards per play.
The Rebels strength defensively lies in its linebackers and star strong safety Jamaal Brimmer, the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year last season. Brimmer can do it all defensively and is especially dangerous when blitzing off the edge. Brimmer already has three tackles for loss.
Adam Seward is the top linebacker among a very good group. He led the Mountain West with 11.1 tackles per game last season, and is just a tad behind that pace this year, with 19 tackles in two games. He also has two sacks.
Lee Evans will not be the only player on the field who is making an impressive return to action this season. Rebel linebacker Ryan Claridge missed all of 2002 with an abdominal hernia but has returned this season and recorded eight tackles thus far. With Seward, Claridge and top reserve Zach Bell (nine tackles), UNLV has solid inside linebackers who should thrive in the Rebels new 3-4 defense. The outside ‘backers, John Andrews and Reggie Butler, are quite athletic and will bring pressure off the edge. Andrews has 14 tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass break up this season.
The Badgers, though, have done a good job breaking down blitz-happy defenses in their first two games. If Wisconsin's offensive linemen continue to pick up the blitz there should be ample running room for tailback Anthony Davis. UNLV has not played against a two-back set yet this season, though, so it will be interesting to see how they defend the Badgers power running sets.
If the Rebels stay true to form and employ a variety of zone blitzes Saturday, they will desperately need to persistently pressure Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi. UNLV's weakness defensively is its cornerbacks. The Rebels tend to play zone, but with only five or six players in coverage that will still lead to isolations between the Badgers' talented receivers and UNLV's overmatched coverage people.
Special Teams match up
Wisconsin specialists UNLV specialists
P R.J. Morse (Jr. 6-1, 246) Gary Cook (Jr. 6-1, 200)
PK Mike Allen (Jr. 6-2, 186) or Dillon Pieffer (Sr. 5-11, 180)
KO Scott Campbell (Sr. 6-0, 245) Pieffer
KR Brandon Williams (So. 5-11, 170) Dominique Dorsey (So. 5-7, 160)
PR Jim Leonhard (Jr. 5-8, 183) Alvin Marshall (Jr. 5-10, 190)
LS Matt Katula (Jr. 6-6, 282) Ryan Heise (Fr. 6-3, 250)
The Rebels have a not-so-secret weapon that could come into play Saturday. Tight end Greg Estandia, who stands 6-8 and possesses very good athleticism, stands in the middle against field goals and extra points and uses his immense frame to get after kicks. He blocked a field goal in the opener with Toledo.
UNLV has plenty of athletic options at kickoff returner, but partly due to Marshall's injured foot, the Rebels return game has been enigmatic, averaging just 15.6 yards per return. In one of the stranger statistics in college football, UNLV does not have a single punt return to its credit this season (opponents have punted six times).
Speaking of unknown commodities, UNLV kicker Dillon Pieffer has attempted just one field goal this year. He made the 21-yard attempt. Pieffer is 21-for-33 in four seasons at UNLV.
The Rebels kick and punt coverage units have left much to be desired, yielding 31.2 yards per kickoff return, and 21.2 yards per punt return.
Wisconsin's special teams have been a strength for the most part this season. Punter R.J. Morse's play has been markedly improved. Kicker Scott Campbell has done an excellent job on kickoffs and has hit three straight field goals after opening the year 0-for-2. Jim Leonhard and Brandon Williams have been solid on returns and the coverage units, aside from two big breakdowns, have been solid. The team also tallied a blocked punt in week one.
The special teams, though, has had too many mistakes. In addition to missed field goals and a couple botched return coverages, Wisconsin fumbled the opening kickoff against Akron.