Seems like it was just yesterday when we were talking to our buddy Jeremy Mauss from Mountain West Connection about the TCU Horned Frogs. Well, it might be eight months later, but the Badgers play their second straight game against a Mountain West Opponent, which means Jeremy is going to get us prepped on the Rebels this time:
B5Q: How does this UNLV team differ from the one that hung with the Badgers for a half last season in Las Vegas? What’s the general outlook for the Rebels in their second season under head coach Bobby Hauck? Is there any chance their young players blossom early and get this team to a bowl game this year?
MWC: The team is fully under Hauck's pro-style offense, so there will be very few elements of the wide open passing game that Hauck was somewhat forced to use last year due to personnel. They have the right quarterback in Caleb Herring who is a redshirt sophomore, but he is the more prototypical drop-back passer. Moving exclusively to the pro-style is the biggest change that Wisconsin will see. The consensus is that UNLV is to finish at best seventh in the Mountain West, and a bowl game is a pipe dream. They do have some young talent on offense, but the defense, which gave up 39 points per game last year, is what is keeping the Rebels from achieving all that much this season.
B5Q: Who are the players to watch on offense Thursday night and how do you think it will fare against the Badger defense?
MWC: As I mentioned before, the Rebels transitioned from a spread attack to a pro-style offense. Caleb Herring is the starter and he has had little FBS experience which came last year in garbage time. So far in camp, Herring has looked good according to head coach Bobby Hauck, but it will be a big difference taking on Wisconsin on the road. The best play maker on offense is wide receiver Phillip Payne who has 19 career touchdown receptions and is the team's leading receiver from 2010. Payne has been recovering from a broken right ankle and has been limited in practice, but the coaches are holding him back to be safe and he should be good to go Thursday night.
B5Q: Who are the players to watch on defense? What kind of defense does UNLV run and how do you think it will fare against the Badger offense?
MWC: One thing to know about the UNLV defense is that they were one of the worst in the country and gave up 39.7 points per game. There is no doubt that the defense will struggle against Wisconsin's offensive line even if UNLV has a linebacker or two help out in the run game. The Rebels run a 4-3 defense and while that defense is designed to slow down a running game, UNLV is undersized on the defensive line and will struggle against the much larger Wisconsin front. The secondary is the most experienced and best unit on defense with Will Chandler who had five interceptions last year and then they return Quinton Pointer who is a legit NFL prospect. Pointer is a very good cover corner, but he is coming off a knee injury in 2010 where he missed most of the season. However, with the non-existence pass rush, the defensive backfield can only cover receivers for so long before someone gets open.
B5Q: Are there any major weapons on special teams the Badgers will have to worry about?
MWC: Sophomore wide receiver Marcus Sullivan is the team's primary kick returner and in limited action last season he averaged 28 yards per kickoff return. He is a smaller wide receiver who is extremely fast, and he could be a key early on if he can start the Rebel offense with good field position.
B5Q: Finally, your prediction for Thursday night?
MWC: Wisconsin will win, but if UNLV can keep it within 17 points and be competitive for just over a quarter then I would say that is a success.