Friday, Nov. 4, 2011 | 7 p.m.
So much for your typical homecoming game.
Instead of welcoming in an opponent it should be able to handle on Saturday, UNLV is hosting the fifth-ranked team in the nation, as undefeated Boise State (7-0 overall, 2-0 Mountain West) comes to Sam Boyd Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. showdown.
How long will the game remain a showdown? Well, that's what many are curious to see, as the Rebels (2-5, 1-1) have struggled for the better part of the 2011 campaign, while the Broncos are on a warpath towards another berth in a BCS bowl game, and possibly even a shot at a national championship.
UNLV has been installed as a 42-point underdog, and would likely need a series of minor miracles to have a shot at pulling off what would be the biggest upset in program history. Still, though, the Rebels normally play their best ball at home and could have a shot to at least push the Broncos for a bit.
Though many are expecting the worst for the Rebels, here's a closer look at Saturday's UNLV-Boise State match-up.
1) Kellen The Great
Senior quarterback Kellen Moore was a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago, and likely will be again this December. But what he's doing in 2011 is far more impressive. Last season, he threw for 3,845 yards, 35 touchdowns and only six interceptions, but lost two receivers to graduation in Austin Pettis and Titus Young — both of whom were NFL draft picks. And with a re-vamped cast of characters on the perimeter, he's simply doing it again, with a career-best 76.3 percent completion rate, 24 TDs and five picks this season. Few teams have been able to rattle his cage and force mistakes in a career that has seen Moore go 45-2 as a starter. UNLV's defense recorded four sacks and forced three turnovers a week ago, and against heightened competition, will need numbers similar to those on that side of the ball to have any hope against the machine that is Moore.
2) How much will UNLV's suspensions matter?
UNLV coach Bobby Hauck announced on Wednesday that five of his players will be suspended this Saturday for unspecified violations of team rules. Among them are sophomore linebacker Tani Maka — the team's leading tackler — and sophomore running back Tim Cornett — it's second-leading rusher. Also out is highly-touted junior college transfer linebacker Princeton Jackson, who is tied for third on the team in tackles. The losses on defense will likely hurt more than Cornett having to sit out. UNLV is more than prepared to handle Cornett sitting out. He's been banged up of late after suffering from a hip injury a few weeks back, and freshman Dionza Bradford at the same time has emerged as the team's current frontline back. In the team's last three games, he has carried the ball 61 times for 302 yards and a score. With Cornett out, the Rebels could also use some help from sophomore Bradley Randle behind Bradford. His carries have come and gone a couple of times this season, and he gets another shot to earn more work here.
3) Running the ball, however, will be far from easy
Boise State ranks 16th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense, allowing 300.6 yards of offense per game, though their rank of 50th against the run is a bit misleading. The Broncos have one of the toughest defensive fronts to handle on the West Coast, and it's anchored by a guy who local football fans should remember pretty well — senior defensive tackle Billy Winn. Winn, a former Las Vegas High standout, has 22 tackles and four for losses so far this season. He eats up space in the middle, while ends Tyrone Crawford and Shea McClellin so far have combined for 67 tackles, 13.5 for loss and 8.5 sacks.
4) Doug Martin shines from the shadows
Kellen Moore gets all of the hype, but senior running back Doug Martin has proven himself to be almost just as valuable to the Broncos' high-powered attack. Martin ranks 22nd in the nation, averaging 106.7 yards per game. At 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, he can hammer away at defenders up front with his stocky build, but also has above-average open-field speed. After a slow start to the season, he's opened things up in the last two weeks, going for a combined 321 yards and four touchdowns off of 41 carries in victories over Colorado State and Air Force. With UNLV's linebacking corps missing plenty of punch due to the aforementioned suspensions, look for Martin to have a shot at another big day.
5) The X-factors
Hauck went out of his way at his Monday press conference to point out how much he likes Boise State freshman receiver Matt Miller — an athletic 6-foot-3 perimeter threat from Helena, Montana, who Hauck tried to recruit out of high school. Miller hasn't had any monster games this season, but he's been incredibly consistent, catching at least five passes in five of seven games, and at the moment has 33 grabs for 375 yards and four scores. On UNLV's side, and, yes, this may sound strange, but the x-factor will be junior punter Chase Lansford. He's currently 30th in the FBS ranks in average yards per punt attempt at 42.9, and just this week was added to the Ray Guy Award watch list, given annually to the nation's top punter. If Boise State's defense is on, and UNLV wants a fighting chance at hanging around, the field position game could prove to be crucial.