BYU Football Opponent Preview: The UNLV Rebels

Sarah Glenn

A way-too-early preview of BYU's matchup against UNLV

In the next installment of our opponent preview we look at the UNLV Rebels.

The Details:

  • BYU vs UNLV - Saturday, November 15th at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
  • UNLV 2013-14 Record - 7-6
  • Coach - Bobby Hauck (13-38 in four seasons at UNLV)

A familiar opponent from the MWC days, this will be the Cougars first game against UNLV since 2010. BYU is 15-3 all time vs the Rebels, the last loss coming back in 2004. UNLV got off to a rough start in 2013 before coming on to win 7 of its 12 games and make an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they lost 38-14 to North Texas. It was their first bowl appearance since 2000. The Rebels will be looking to build on that progress and be in the postseason this year as well; they return 14 starters from 2013. Overall this is a game BYU should expect to dominate on its home field, but there are a few things to look out for:

Defense:

Struggling to play at a consistent level, the UNLV defense gave up an average of 31.8 points per game, ranking 95th in the nation. They will return 6 starters from last years unit, mostly in the secondary where they are stacked with experience; among those returning are corners Tajh Hasson and Kenneth Penny, and safeties Peni Vea and Mike Horsey. They gave up 217.7 passing yards per game in 2013, ranking 38th. They have enough reliable ball-hawks in the back to have one of the better secondaries in the country this season, but the front 7 is a completely different story, where they are basically starting over.

The defensive line and linebacker core lack depth and experience, and that's after they ranked 102nd last season against the run, giving up 215 yards per game. They will look for an impact from seniors Asten Koki and Efrem Clark and transfers Tuli Fakauho and Billy Tanuvasa. If they can improve against the run and somehow conjure up a strong pass rush to support the secondary, this defense could be improved, but we can still expect BYU to have success running the ball.

Offense:

After losing starting quarterback Caleb Herring and leading rusher Tim Cornett to graduation, the offense will need play-makers to step up this season. In 2013 they were slightly above average, ranking 59th out of 128 teams in the country scoring 29.9 points per game. They ranked 60th in passing, and 62nd in rushing. Nothing that jumps out at you, but this offense was well-balanced and didn’t seem to have any distinct strengths or weaknesses.

In the backfield they'll look to speedy senior Shaq Murray-Lawrence to continue to improve as he is expected to take the reins of the running game. A big play threat in 2013, Murray-Lawrence rushed for 418 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 47 carries, averaging 8.9 yards per carry.

They return a very experienced offensive line that should help provide stability to the running game and a new quarterback under center. Most expect Nick Sherry to be the starter. He threw only 75 passes last year, but started as a freshman in 2012 and has an NFL type body and arm at 6-5 and 235 lbs. JUCO transfer Blake Decker is Sherry’s main competition for the position.

The most sure thing about the UNLV offense? Senior Receiver Devante Davis. One of the more under-rated wideouts in the country. Davis averaged 14.8 yards per catch and totaled 1290 receiving yards with 14 touchdowns last season, proving himself to be a true go-to weapon. Davis will be a security blanket for whoever is taking the snaps for UNLV, and at 6-3 and 210 pounds, his size and athleticism could be hard for the BYU secondary to deal with.

What To Expect:

UNLV has the potential and the weapons to be better than last year and should be a fun team to watch. With offensive big-play threats like Shaquille Murray-Lawrence and Devante Davis, and high-quality depth on the offensive line and in the secondary, this team could be dangerous and over-achieving. All of that considered, the matchup looks favorable for BYU. The Rebels weaknesses seem to be a lack of depth in the defensive front 7, run defense, pass rush, and quarterback uncertainty. Those flaws play right into the hand of BYU’s main strength: running the football. I foresee BYU being able to put points on the board through the run game, and containing UNLV’s offense enough to win this one at home.

How do you think the game will go?

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