Rebels football:

UNLV Gameday: Arizona will be on the attack in Rebels’ home opener

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Andy Clayton-King / AP

UNLV running back Tim Cornett (35) runs for a touchdown in front of Minnesota linebacker Aaron Hill (57) during the first quarter of their NCAA college football game, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in Minneapolis.

Whether Arizona is more, less or the same challenge as Minnesota for UNLV is up for debate. What’s certain is that the Rebels are a much better team at home, so at least they have one thing going in their favor heading into Saturday’s home opener at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

The Wildcats are a difficult team to gauge because their first game was a breezy 35-0 victory against Northern Arizona that doesn’t tell us anything other than the fact they’re at least 35 points better than the Lumberjacks. Arizona played that game without the nation’s leading rusher last year (top storyline below) so his return certainly shakes things up, too.

A big question is the talent of the Wildcats’ defense. Arizona is going to score some points but it appears UNLV will be able to get on the board as well. That’s about as much as the Rebels can ask for at this stage because, just like last week, being competitive in the fourth quarter right now is the goal.

If they do that, then at least they give themselves a chance to win.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Carey gets the carries

Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey is back from his one-game suspension and he figures to be motivated to start making up ground on his 1,929-yard output last season.

That led the nation and put him very much on the radar for the NFL draft. Carey’s off-field incidents may hurt that stock a little bit, but not to the degree that a stellar junior season wouldn’t make up for. While Carey will look to assert his dominance, don’t overlook senior backup Daniel Jenkins, who piled up 152 all-purpose yards and two scores in Arizona’s win against Northern Arizona.

2. Here’s the catch

UNLV is still without receivers Kendal Keys, who may not play at all this season because of enrollment issues, and Marcus Sullivan, whose return date from a personal issue is unknown.

Without those two, UNLV could use some production from a group that includes Maika Mataele, Jerry Rice Jr. and Jack Killian. Mataele was solid in the opener, catching a bunch of passes on short routes to finish with nine receptions for 43 yards.

Rice Jr. also finished with decent short-yardage production — six catches for 35 yards — but dropped a would-be touchdown and fell flat on a couple of blocking assignments. And Killian had an awful game, catching only one pass for no yards and tipping another attempt in the air where a Minnesota defender grabbed it for an interception.

Devante Davis is entrenched at No. 1 but with Anthony Williams suddenly as the No. 2, the team could use someone else to step up and make quarterback Nick Sherry’s life a little easier.

3. Attendance

Just how many people are going to come watch this game?

UNLV has tried to get creative to entice people out to the stadium, and there should be a decent contingent of Wildcats who make the trip for a Vegas weekend. Still, ticket sales haven’t been good and it’s late on a Saturday night.

At this stage, breaking 20,000 would have to be deemed a victory.

Key Matchup

Arizona’s backfield vs. UNLV’s linebackers

The read-option, and the Rebels’ ability to stop it, may very well decide this game. It’s the signature offense for Rich Rodriguez’s teams and the Rebels didn’t look great against a mobile quarterback last week in Minnesota.

They could be facing the same type of situation this week, meaning quarterback B.J. Denker’s arm isn’t as dangerous to the Rebels as his legs. His mobility paired with Carey is a dangerous combination and one the Rebels can’t allow to beat them too often.

Over/Under: 0.5 Arizona return touchdowns

UNLV just gave up three of them so the law of averages suggests they should make it through this game unscathed in that department. But you never know.

Imagine the heartbreak if the Rebels give up a kickoff or interception return touchdown early in the game. You would see a lot of slumped shoulders.

That’s what he said: “I don’t know if we can tackle him.” — Hauck, attempting to get Carey overconfident

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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