Red Wolves vs. Rebels: Three Penetrating Questions for Matt Kenerly of Mountain West Wire
What can the Arkansas State Red Wolves expect from the UNLV Rebels? I didn’t know, so I asked an expert.
The Red Wolves haven’t intersected with the UNLV Rebels since the days of the Big West, when both programs were (briefly) members. Admittedly, my Rebels knowledge is a little stale. I reached out to college football guru Matt Kenerly of Mountain West Wire for a fresh perspective.
ME: Sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers seems like a superstar in the making. He’s tall. He’s fast. He had a pile of impressive offers coming out of high school. What can we expect to see from Rogers on Saturday night?
MATT: Rogers is still very much a work in progress as a passer, given that he’s completed less than 50% of his passes and wears a sack rate north of 10% while having played USC, the worst team in the FBS (UTEP) and an okay FCS team (Prairie View A&M). You could make the argument that he’s made up for those early shortcomings, though, by playing like one of the best running QBs in the country. And he definitely has, since Rogers is one of three FBS quarterbacks averaging 100 yards rushing so far this year. He can be frustrating and electric, which I suppose makes him the perfect Las Vegas athlete when you really think about it.
ME: Rogers and senior running back Lexington Thomas are leading the nation’s third-most prolific rushing attack. Is the success of this ground game a surprise to anyone inside the Mountain West?
MATT: Not at all, and the question overlooks the fact that UNLV’s running game is actually four deep. Thomas and Rogers get a lot of the spotlight, and deservedly so, but Xzaviar Campbell has averaged five yards per carry in his Rebels career (and sits at 5.9 YPC in 2018) and Charles Williams, who missed nearly all of 2017 with injury, has come back and picked up right where he left off by averaging 5.9 YPC himself. Combine that with an offensive line that doesn’t often get pushed around — they ranked 13th nationally in Stuff Rate so far — and the Red Wolves’ front seven better be ready to absorb some body blows from this running attack.
ME: Roger Mann is a co-leader of the Mountain West with 3.5 sacks. But I’m not sure if we learned too much about the Rebels’ defense after games with UTEP, Prairie View and USC. Where is the Rebels defense weak, and where is it strong?
MATT: Yeah, I think it’s safe to say USC isn’t quite itself right now with a true freshman at quarterback, and the rest of the competition has been… lacking. Personally, though, I really like the talent at linebacker, where Gabe McCoy and Bailey Laolagi (8.5 combined TFLs) have shined and Farrell Hester II could develop into one of the conference’s best run defenders. The secondary has proven it can at least shut down woeful opponents, cornerbacks Jericho Flowers and Alex Perry can pick off an errant pass if Justice Hansen isn’t careful.
The line might still have something to prove, though, because even UTEP was able to manage over seven yards per carry (!) on the ground. Mann, as you noticed, has stood out so far but the guys in the middle, Salanoa-Alo Wily and Kolo Uasike, will need to step up if the Rebels want to control the game.
ME: The Mountain West is kicking ass in 2018. How close are the Rebels to competing with teams like San Diego State and Boise State?
MATT: It’s tough to say, but overall I think there’s still work to be done on both sides of the football before UNLV can be considered a real contender. They did topple Fresno State last year, but they got pantsed by the Aztecs at home, blew a 27-point lead at Air Force, and let Utah State rip off 38 straight points after building a 14-point halftime lead (and that was literally just their October). The offense will keep them in games and make them a headache in conference play, but the defense will have to prove it can come together to seriously challenge the Mountain West’s best.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.