Know Your Opponent: UCLA at UNLV


The Bruins play the Running Rebels at 730pm Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Here comes your UCLA at UNLV Preview!

The Bruins are 1-2 lifetime at Sam Boyd Stadium (but they have never faced UNLV in football). Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend we were all wowed by the debut of super-frosh Josh Rosen in the Bruins 34-16 victory over Virginia. This Saturday UCLA takes a short road trip to Las Vegas to face UNLV in its home opener. This should be a step down in competition for the Bruins, and UCLA is a heavy 30 point favorite, but new UNLV Coach Tony Sanchez had the Rebels playing hard enough to almost upset a good Northern Illinois team on the road last week. Stranger things have happened in the desert (and the Bruins don’t exactly have a proud history in Sam Boyd Stadium). . .

"Did You Know… This is UNLV’s first meeting with UCLA, but the Rebels are 6-28 against Pac-12 schools (the vast majority of those games being against former fellow WAC school Utah)."

UNLV Offense

The Dreamy Blake Decker. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Rebels racked up close to 500 yards of total offense last Saturday, and much of that total was orchestrated by senior quarterback Blake Decker. Decker, flowing locks and all, threw for 319 yards with two TD’s and one INT. He has shown a penchant for throwing interceptions in the past (17 TD’s to 19 INT’s career), but he moves around well and can scoot up the field effectively if needed.

Decker’s favorite targets are a pair of sophomores: Devonte Boyd (who was a Freshman All-American last year and Kendal Keys; the pair accounted for 11 catches and 169 yards receiving against NIU.

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On the ground, UNLV wants to run the ball with power within the framework of a spread option formations. Junior

Keith Whitely

(who rushed for 504 yards in 2014) will shoulder most of the load (he had 21 carries last Saturday). He will be spelled by freshman

Lexington Thomas

(who is listed at a diminutive 5-9, 165 lbs). Sanchez also used sophomore backup quarterback

Kurt Palandech

as a change of pace from Decker. The run-first Palandech led the Rebels on a 1st half touchdown drive against NIU and gobbled up 42 yards on the ground.

The UCLA defense is undoubtedly the more talented unit, but UNLV appears to have a little more explosiveness on the edges than Virginia. The Rebels will want to use the running game to create play-action opportunities, but if the Bruins can be as solid against the run as they were against Virginia (without committing extra men to the box) UNLV will have a hard time gaining yards. Over blitzing can create lanes for mobile quarterbacks to exploit, so expect a similar game-plan from Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley: primarily base defenses, with occasional pressure (or fake pressure) at the line of scrimmage, with a sprinkling of the blitz. If the Bruins can minimize big plays by the Rebels, they should be able to control the game.  

"Did You Know… The Rebels have only had five winning seasons since 1985. The most wins in any one season since then was an 8-5 year in 2000 under John Robinson."

UNLV Defense

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  • The Rebels came out angry and aggressive against Northern Illinois and held the Huskies to 3 points until the last moments of the first half. Using multiple fronts, the UNLV front seven, led by linebacker

    Tau Lotulelei

    and defensive lineman

    Sonny Sanitoa

    , disrupted NIU’s offensive line and regularly put pressure on the Husky quarterback. However, depth is a problem for the defense, and from the end of the first half until midway through the 4th quarter NIU scored touchdowns on five of six possessions.

    UCLA’s offensive line and running backs will need a similar effort to what they put forth against Virginia in order to keep Rosen comfortable and safe in the pocket. If they can, he should have another great game. Paul Perkins needs to run with the same violence that he had against the Cavaliers; if he does, the UNLV front will likely wear down. 

    "Did You Know… UCLA is on a two game skid at Sam Boyd Stadium; The Bruins beat New Mexico in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, but suffered one of the most embarrassing losses in school history in 2004 to Wyoming and then lost the Vegas Bowl to BYU in 2007."

    Deep Vegas Knowledge

    I had the great pleasure of interviewing UNLV Beat Writer Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. We talked about Sanchez’ early impact on the UNLV program and also broke down the Rebels play-makers on offense and defense. Listen below:

    Also, in case you missed it, Sanchez appeared on the Petros and Money Show on Wednesday afternoon and talked about his team’s preparation for the Bruins and his thoughts on Josh Rosen (they faced each other in high school last year). Listen below:

    Final Word

    UCLA is heading into Las Vegas for the Rebels home opener on an exciting new Vegas themed field for a popular new coach’s debut. All that might lead to a big play or two early for UNLV, but it will be shocking if the Bruins don’t take control of the game fairly quickly and dominate. This game (even more so than last week against Virginia) should be an opportunity to play everyone, give Rosen more experience and get fully buttoned down for BYU next week and the opening of the Pac-12 Schedule.


    UCLA 49 UNLV 9

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