UNLV football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Rebels, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About UNLV’s Offense
It started to crank out points, which is a decent step forward considering it didn’t do that on a regular basis for years. This wasn’t quite the high-flying attack that offensive coordinator Barney Cotton might like, but it was balanced and it might have set the tone for a far bigger 2016. Eight starters return, beginning with all-star wideout Devonte Boyd and a promising-looking offensive line, but the real key is the arrival of quarterback Johnny Stanton. The Nebraska transfer still has to win the job over veteran Kurt Palandech, but he’s just the type of talent to take the offense to a whole other level. Last year the Rebels averaged 194 rushing yards and 211 passing a game, but there wasn’t enough pop. That should change.
Key To The UNLV Offense
There’s a chance the running game turns into a much bigger thing. The spotlight will be on the quarterbacks and the potential of the passing attack – that’s where the weapons are – but the top three backs return working behind a line that gets four starters back. The ground game was never truly abysmal – even running for 92 yards against Michigan and 80 against a brick wall of a San Diego State defense – and was able to hit the 160-yard mark or more nine times finishing 36th in the nation. This could be one of the Mountain West’s sleeper attacks.
What You Need To Know About UNLV’s Defense
UNLV hasn’t played a lot of defense over the last several years, and it needs a bit more work before it starts to catch up to the potential of the improving offense. The run defense was awful, giving up well 218 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer has the linebackers to work around in Tau Lotulelei and Ryan McAleenan, but he’s missing the difference-makers up front. Overall experience isn’t a problem with eight starters returning, but after generating just eight sacks last year, the pressure is on the front seven to start being more disruptive.
Key To The UNLV Defense
Even though the line has to be far, far better, the run defense was a night-and-day improvement from where it was a year before. The 2014 Rebels gave up 3,820 yards and 37 touchdowns, and last year’s defense allowed 2,610 yards and 32 scores. It might have been a big jump, but the defense allowed 200 yards or more in five of the last six games – and 191 in the other – getting absolutely gouged for well over six yards per pop during the span. This has to be a stronger line at the point of attack – the secondary made too many run stops.
UNLV Football Will Be Far Better If …
There’s finally a pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks didn’t even feel a slight breeze at times last year after the defense generated 23 sacks the year before. UNLV came up with a mere nine sacks last season with almost all of them coming from the back seven – just two sacks came from the front four. Making matters worse, three of the team’s sacks came in the opener against Northern Illinois. The Rebels generated a mere three sacks in the ten games. That can’t happen again.
Best Offensive Player
WR Devonte Boyd – The hope is that quarterback Johnny Stanton becomes the star of the show who can carry the Rebels for the next few years, but to do that he needs Boyd to be Boyd. This isn’t a one-man gang with Kendal Keys returning after a 43-catch season, but the wiry Boyd is the field-stretcher and proven go-to guy with 118 catches in his first two seasons.
Best Defensive Player
LB Tau Lotulelei – Running mate Ryan McAleenan might have a little something to say about this after leading the team with 86 tackles, but it’s been Lotulelei who’s been one of the constant positives over the last three seasons. He’s as much of a pass rusher as the Rebels have returning, and he’s a good run stopper on the weakside. Now he needs a bit more help from the front four to help keep him clean.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Johnny Stanton – It’s not a foregone conclusion that the former Nebraska Cornhusker will take the gig with Kurt Palandech returning after starting late last season, but he’s more of a runner than a bomber. Stanton is a big, strong quarterback who fits what former Husker assistant – and current UNLV offensive coordinator – Barney Cotton wants to do. Whoever takes on the starting job has to be a star – a top-shelf quarterback might be the one thing that’s missing.
UNLV’s Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a six-win season. With so many returning starters and so many positive parts to the puzzle to work with, can there really be a three-win improvement? With Jackson State, Idaho and Fresno State at home in the first half of the season, and with a road trip to Central Michigan, there should be a nice early base of wins. Forget about road games at UCLA, San Diego State and Boise State, but games against Hawaii, San Jose State, Wyoming, and Nevada are all winnable.
Oct. 15 at Hawaii. The lone bright spot over the final seven games of last year – a 41-21 win over the Rainbow Warriors – this time around this could be the gateway to a positive campaign. Assume the Rebels will beat Jackson State and Idaho – if they don’t there’s a problem – and assume a split against Central Michigan and Fresno State if all goes well. That would mean they match their 2015 win total by October 1st. Beat Hawaii on the road, and suddenly the season looks possibly special.
Fun Stats From 2015
– Red Zone Scoring: Opponents 42-of-46 (91%) – UNLV 36-of-46 (78%)
– Sacks: Opponents 33 for 157 yards – UNLV 9 for 56 yards
– Fumbles: Opponents 16 (lost 8) – UNLV 14 (lost 4)