Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 | 2 p.m.
Though almost all of the buzz this weekend centers around the official start of UNLV's highly anticipated men's basketball season, Bobby Hauck and his team are hoping to win back some support from 800 miles away.
Coming off a brutal 37-0 loss on the road to rival Nevada-Reno last weekend, UNLV (1-4) will try to win its first road game of the Hauck era in its 2011 Mountain West Conference opener at Wyoming (3-2).
The two will kick-off at 11 a.m., and the game can be seen on both The Mtn. and CBS Sports Network.
Here, now, are five things you need to know as the Rebels try to get their MWC season off to a strong start.
1) All eyes on Reilly
It was announced Monday that junior Sean Reilly, who has attempted seven passes while appearing in two games so far, will get his chance to start at quarterback this Saturday. He replaces Caleb Herring, who orchestrated an offense in Reno that set program records for futility in pass completions (1) and passing yards (8) in a single game. Herring, without question, out-performed Reilly in fall camp to earn the starting job, but he's coming off two awful performances, and it's hard to argue against Reilly at least deserving a chance to see if he can give the UNLV offense a spark. Reilly has a pretty good arm, though accuracy and holding onto the ball too long were issues of his in camp. It could be a good spot, too, for Reilly, as Wyoming ranks 92nd out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in passing defense, and allowed five touchdown passes in the first half last weekend in a 63-19 loss at Utah State.
2) Changes for Wyoming, too
After allowing 548 yards of total offense to Utah State — most of it coming in the first half — third-year Wyoming coach Dave Christensen made multiple changes to his starting defense. For as shaky as UNLV's defense has been at times, Wyoming's has been just as rough. The Cowboys' has simply benefited from an easier schedule. While UNLV is 113th in the FBS in scoring defense, Wyoming is 109th.
3) Run, run, run
The UNLV defense has actually been pretty respectable against the run this season, ranking 56th while allowing 140.8 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, Wyoming is 107th, and in order to find success, that is where UNLV will have to attack the Cowboys. How effective the Rebels' run game has been so far has largely depended on how well the young and inexperienced offensive line has played. Last week in Reno, the Rebels couldn't get it going consistently on the ground, and that was one of the contributing factors to the passing game struggling so much. Still, after sophomore Tim Cornett hurt his hip early in the game, freshman Dionza Bradford wound up racking up 79 yards on 18 carries. Cornett is listed as questionable for the Wyoming game, but whether it's him or Bradford, UNLV could have a favorable matchup up front.
4) Gotta be balanced
UNLV's defense has forced 11 turnovers in its last three games, but it's not getting much help lately from the offense. If the defense is playing a regular amount of snaps, as opposed to the 50 it did in last week's first half, the Rebels can have a chance. If the balance between the two units is not there, though, the levee on defense will eventually break, much like it did mid-way through the second quarter last Saturday when UNR turned a 3-0 game into a 10-0 game on a 10-yard pass play that became a 90-yard touchdown. Wyoming's offense is equally as capable of damaging chunk plays.
5) The x-factors
For Wyoming, it will be freshman quarterback Brett Smith. In the wake of the abrupt departure resident starter Austyn Carta-Samuels made, the true freshman has learned on the fly this season. He's completing 59.8 percent of his passes, has seven TD tosses and only five interceptions. He's been pretty consistent, and if he can stay that way, Wyoming should be in pretty good shape. On UNLV's side, it's senior receiver Phillip Payne yet again. Last weekend, the 6-foot-3 Las Vegas native was held without a catch for the first time in his UNLV career and only got targeted twice. If UNLV's offense is going to break out of its funk, he has to be more involved, plain and simple.