As we look ahead to football... real, actual football played on a field, not on a video game... football that may help us forget the scandals and conference realignments and the like... it's time to discuss our first opponent with someone who actually knows about them.
GoAUpher did a great breakdown of UNLV, but admitted that we just know know a lot about the
I had a chance to bounce some email questions off of Jeremy Mauss, the Manager of Mountain West Connection, part of the SBNation network of blogs. So enough of me intro'ing this, let's just get to it.
JDMill: I'm inclined to refer to UNLV as the Runnin' Rebels, but it appears that the "Runnin" part either no longer exists, or never did exist. What's the story here?
Jeremy Mauss: Well, the Runnin' Rebels refers to the basketball team and to my knowledge never referred to the football team. However, this year they could be called the Runnin' Rebels as they should have a solid running game. Their top three rushers from 2011 are back and led by Tim Cornett and then Dionza Bradford and Bradley Randle combined for over 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns. Plus, their offensive line returns 55 starts from the 2011 season, so the running game could be a big part of the game.
JD: Sin City isn't exactly the midwest when it comes to pregame options for college football. Being that there is so much going on in Vegas, what's the tailgating culture like before a Rebels game and what can Gopher fans expect to encounter from Rebels fans in the parking lots?
JM: There is a ton of space in the area to tailgate, partly due to Sam Boyd Stadium being on the outskirts of Las Vegas. It does cost $40 per vehicle to park, so remember that. Basically it is a lot like other smaller schools, nothing too big and a lot of friendly people. Also, with it being Las Vegas I am almost certain that there will be a good amount of Minnesota fans there. When Wisconsin came to Las Vegas the crowd was at least split 50/50 between the two schools, just couldn't tell in the game since both wear red.
JD: How are the crowds at Sam Boyd Stadium? Is there a significant home field advantage for the Rebels?
JM: I could just answer no, but I will elaborate. With the team not playing well over the past decade or so, the crowds are small for their stadium even though it holds about 40,000 people. With the game at night, any advantage UNLV has from training in the heat is essentially gone. Overall, there is no real home field advantage. There are the passionate fans but it is so small they do not make a difference.
JD: UNLV struggled last season and Bobby Hauck seems like he's looking to shake things up a bit, naming RS Fr Nick Sherry as the starting QB. Should Gopher fans expect to see Sherry's arm in action so early in the season, or will Hauck be conservative early and try to run Tim Cornett to job security?
JM: I would think that Hauck would want to use his stable of running backs early on since Sherry is making his first career start. Sherry has boasted about having a very strong arm and wants to keep the defenses honest and respect his abilities. My gut tells me they will use Cornett early on and give Sherry manageable third downs. If the running game can gain some momentum, then I could see Hauck opening up the playbook some and using play action to suck in the defense and then beat a defensive back over the top. However, this is UNLV and their rate of success is not the best. Getting the run going first is likely to be the game plan.
JD: Any truth to the rumors that if Hauck doesn't double his win total from last season the Rebels are going to bring in Jerry Tarkanian to coach football because why not?
JM: I fully support this rumor! Bring the towel-biting, NCAA-dodging, national championship head coach to get this team going. Honestly, it cannot get any worse, or at least that is probably what the dozen or so UNLV fans are telling themselves.
JD: One of the things that UNLV did do well last season, or at least slightly better overall than their opponents, was get turnovers. That's surprising considering their W/L record, so what's the secret sauce to getting those turnovers, and how come the Rebels couldn't turn it into more wins?
JM: Their defense was aggressive and I cannot be certain of this but, as teams were blowing out UNLV they put in their backups and that makes the game more even. So with the lesser offensive talent they are facing, those players would make mistakes and UNLV would take advantage. The reason they did not convert that into wins was a combination of that they were trailing by so much they could not come back, and because the offense was non-existent and had trouble moving the ball.
JD: What is the greatest strength of the UNLV Rebels?
JM: Their running game and offensive line. Last year the line was awful, but they return five players who started 55 games including left tackle Brett Boyko who was a freshman All-American last year. So, there is hope for improvement there that they can open holes and protect the quarterback. The offense has three talented backs in Tim Cornett and then Dionza Bradford and Bradley Randle, and any of those three can run the ball. Cornett is the starter and will get the carriers but there is no real drop off from the other two.
JD: What area do you expect that the Gophers can most easily exploit on Thursday?
JM: If they can get a good pass rush against the offensive line. I mentioned them as a strength, but all they really have is experience. The players are essentially the same, so does that year of experience matter when the line was in the bottom 100 in sacks allowed? If a pass rush can be brought by Minnesota and can get to the quarterback then UNLV will be in for a long night.
JD: Is there a sense among the UNLV fan-base that this is a winnable game against the Gophers?
JM: I think there is, they know Minnesota is from the Big Ten and thus have better athletes according to recruiting rankings year to year. But the optimism comes from that Minnesota was not a very good Big Ten team who won only three games last year. By no means do I or most of the UNLV followers feel this is a game they should win, but they feel that they should at worst compete and could possibly pull off the win if the team can play well.
JD: What is your prediction for the game?
JM: I think it will be a close game, like within 10 points on either side. However, until UNLV can prove to me that they are capable of winning games consistently I have to say that Minnesota will win, but in a close game.