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Getting To Know Michigan Football's Week Three Opponent: The UNLV Rebels

Taking a look at Michigan's Saturday Mountain West foe and more in preparation for the weekend matchup.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the season during game week, we will be taking a look at what Michigan's opponent that Saturday has done so far and what the team looks like. With the game against UNLV being a week three opponent, we automatically go to the Rebels' loss to UCLA this past weekend and their first year head coach.

UNLV Overview: From High School To Division 1 Football

Zach: What can you say about UNLV? The Rebels’ football program lost 38 games in five seasons and appeared in one bowl game under former head coach Bobby Hauck. Now, they’re going to attempt to prove to everyone that hiring a local high school coach can be a formula for success. Ricky, is Tony Sanchez the answer to UNLV’s problems?

Ricky: The jump from high school head coach to college head coach is a difficult one, especially with Sanchez’s lack of experience in the college game. According to his Wikipedia page, he was an undergraduate assistant for his alma mater, New Mexico State, in 1996. Before this season, it was his only experience coaching college football, and that’s almost 20 years ago. But for the past six seasons, Sanchez coached at Bishop Gorman, one of the top high school programs in the country. He compiled an 85-5 record and led the team to the state championship game in all six seasons. You probably know him from ESPN’s Snoop and Son: A Dad’s Dream. I think Sanchez could be the answer to UNLV’s problems, but only considering who and where they are. The Rebels are in the Mountain West and have been a cellar-dweller for this decade. Zach, with UNLV being three time zones away, it’s easy for Michigan fans to not know their next opponent. What should they expect Saturday?

Zach: In their loss against UCLA this past weekend, the offensive unit managed just 237 yards, with 181 coming from the running game. This is a very one-dimensional team, but Keith Whitely appears to be a legitimate tailgate and punt returner. In two games this season, Whitely has rushed for 141 yards on 33 attempts, including a 41-yard run against the Bruins. Quarterback Blake Decker left Saturday’s game with an injury but hasn't been ruled out, however, the probability of the Rebels garnering an upset because of their passing game is doubtful. With that being said, will Whitely continue his respectable rushing attack against Michigan’s defense?

Ricky: I highly doubt that Whitely will continue his rushing attack Saturday. Michigan’s defense is its strong-suit this year, and it’s rushing defense — which was elite a year ago — could put up another top 15 season. So far, the Wolverines are ranked 23rd amongst FBS teams in rushing defense with 186 yards allowed. Only seven teams ranked above Michigan in the category have defended at least 60 carries. On the flip side, it appears the team’s offense is starting to gel, with the running game paving the way for Rudock. Should Michigan have any reason for concern offensively against the Rebels?

Zach: I have no concerns for Michigan’s offense, especially the running game, which came alive at the Big House on Saturday. De’Veon Smith punished Oregon State with his power attack, surpassing 100 yards, while Ty Isaac and Derrick Green combined for 90 yards. When UNLV’s defense went up against UCLA’s offense, the Bruins averaged 5.8 yards per carry while racking up 151 total yards rushing. Jim Harbaugh will continue his ground-and-pound rhinoceros charging scheme and will show no signs of slowing down in Ann Arbor. I want to ask you this man, do you enjoy seeing programs like UNLV on Michigan’s schedule? Should the Wolverines attempt to schedule tougher non-conference opponents or is there no issue here?

Ricky: I enjoy the variety and west-coast flow this nonconference schedule has rather than the Directional Michigans or MAC schools of yesteryear. But it would be sexy to see a top-flight foe coming to the Big House. The matchups with Notre Dame were always special. I just feel that with the landscape of college football changing (the addition of more conference games) and more meaning placed on strength of schedule, non-conference schedules will be watered down. There will be the big-time matchups — Michigan has home-and-homes with UCLA, Texas and Oklahoma scheduled in the future — but all the Power 5 teams have to compete with each other for those spots.

Recap: UCLA 37, UNLV 3

UCLA traveled east to Las Vegas Sept. 12, and topped UNLV on a field that looks like a card table.

Bruins freshman quarterback Josh Rosen looked like, well, a freshman, against the Rebels, completing 22-of-42 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. UNLV allowed 273 rushing yards in the 34-point loss.

The Rebs struggled on third down, converting only twice on 15 tries compared to UCLA’s 8-for-19 conversion rate.

Blake Decker went 2-for-6 passing with 52 yards but was injured in the game. Backup Kurt Paladench struggled mightily, completing 4-of-15 passes for four yards and an interception.

UNLV rushed 43 times for 181 yards. Keith Whitely led the way with 73 yards on 12 carries.

Key Players To Watch

Blake Decker, Quarterback

The Las Vegas Review Journal reported on Monday that the senior is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Decker isn’t ruled out for Saturday’s game, but Kurt Palandech has moved to the top of the depth chart. Palandech’s performance against UCLA was even more putrid than Decker. The sophomore completed just 4 passes for four yards, while having an interception returned for a touchdown. Because of this, whether Sanchez starts an unseasoned underclassman or an now injury prone pocket passer will both be nightmarish against Michigan’s defense.

Keith Whitely, Running Back

Whitely is not only a running back, he’s also UNLV’s punt returner. Granted he’s attempted just one return, but unless Michigan’s punt team covers well, expect to see an uncontested specialist perform in uninhabited waters. As the program’s ball carrier, the term "carry the team on his back" will be riding on his shoulders in order to provide a respectable amount of points offensively. Whitely ran for 73 yards on 12 carries against the Bruins, not bad, but can’t see a six yard per carry average again this Saturday.

Devonte Boyd, Wide Receiver

The reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year is without a doubt UNLV’s top receiver. He led the team on Saturday with eight receptions for 162 yards. This may sound worrisome to Michigan, but keep in mind that Jabrill Peppers has slowly lived up to the preseason hype at safety. Delano Hill also had a solid performance at cornerback against Oregon State, so there's talent on Michigan's secondary to diminish any chance of Boyd having a monster performance.

Peni Vea, Safety

With Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, Freddy Canteen, Jehu Chesson, Brian Cole and Grant Perry on the opposing team, Vea will have a busy afternoon containing a respectable wide receiver corp. In two games this season, Vea has recorded 17 tackles, one sack and one fumble. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Hot Takes

Zach: UNLV's offense will struggle in front of another sell crowd. Rolling out a quarterback who's obviously battling with injuries against a hard nosed front seven and Peppers causes a lopsided advantage. A 2-1 record going into BYU week is surely a guarantee.

Ricky: Michigan opens as a 34-point favorite against UNLV. It will have no problem covering the spread and then some. The Wolverines demoralize the Rebs in the first meeting between the two teams. De’Veon Smith leads the running backs as they surpass 300 yards rushing. Jake Rudock takes another step forward in Jim Harbaugh’s offense before BYU comes rolling into Ann Arbor. The rout allows players that haven’t seen much field time, such as Drake Harris, to earn valuable experience.