Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Christine Killimayer talk about the night that belonged to UNLV senior receiver Ryan Wolfe, who became the Mountain West's all-time leading pass-catcher as the Rebels prevailed 34-17 at New Mexico. Plus, UNLV's improvement on some recent weaknesses and the challenge lying ahead next weekend in Fort Worth.
- Opponent: TCU
- Date: Oct. 31, 1 p.m.
- Where: Fort Worth, Texas
- TV: Versus (Cox Ch. 38, HD 738)
- Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
- All-time series: TCU leads, 6-1
- The line: TCU by 35
Editor's note: Each Monday, UNLV football coach Mike Sanford meets with the media to discuss last weekend's action and next weekend's matchup. So each week the Sun will bring you notes and quotes discussing both.
No one can blame UNLV coach Mike Sanford for having some extra pop in his step early this week and rightfully brandishing a bit of optimism on the heels of his team's 34-17 victory at New Mexico on Saturday night.
Now he's ready to sound bold, as the 3-5 Rebels head south for Halloween to face 7-0 TCU. The Horned Frogs shot up to No. 6 in the latest BCS rankings on the heels of a 38-7 trouncing of BYU.
"People may think I'm crazy, but we're going in there to win a football game," Sanford said. "If I think anything less, it wouldn't be right. That's what we expect to do. But, like I said earlier, we have a lot of respect for them. They're very fast, very good."
While almost everyone outside of the UNLV program is chalking this contest up as another brick in TCU's road to a big-money bowl game in early 2010, the Rebels will take the same approach they adopted a week ago in hopes that it will pay off again even.
Heading into the showdown with winless New Mexico, UNLV was able to keep its focus by centering the attention during the week on itself, rather than getting caught up in the storylines being talked about on the outside. Those included the turmoil within the Lobos program involving first-year coach Mike Locksley and the game being UNLV's best shot this season to end a 20-game road losing streak in conference play.
This week, the prognostication is reversed, as TCU is favored by 34 points and is now in the national spotlight as this year's potential BCS cinderella.
"A lot of interest and excitement because of playing TCU," Sanford added. "But our deal right now is about ourselves. It's about us playing to our standards, about us improving, it's about us playing to our level."
Reflecting on Albuquerque
One of the most positive things to come out of Saturday's victory was that it was the best four quarters junior quarterback Omar Clayton has strung together all season.
His finest showing in 2009 before Saturday came in the second half of a 34-33 victory over Hawaii back on Sept. 19. But this time, it was four quarters of consistency.
Aside from completing 20 of his 30 pass attempts and throwing for two touchdowns, Clayton made smart decisions and went without an interception.
The cherry on top was the 50 yards he picked up on six rushes. Channing Trotter also added 65 yards on 13 carries, as a consistent ground game was present for the first time in weeks.
Prior to this weekend, Clayton had run for just 72 yards in six games.
"The fact that he ran the ball and gained yards there was good for him and good for our offense," Sanford said. "I think the fact that we ran the ball and took some of the load off of him was good for him."
Moving forward to TCU
Sanford and his staff will dive into TCU's game tapes more and more as the week progresses, but it doesn't take a genius to know what UNLV will have to combat first and foremost.
"I think that the thing you need to prepare for, just in general, is their speed," Sanford said. "The thing they all have in common is that they're fast."
The speedy defense is one UNLV is familiar with, as the Horned Frogs ravaged the Rebels last season with it in a 44-14 victory at Sam Boyd Stadium. It was the only game in a 5-7 campaign that UNLV never really had a chance in, and the collateral damage was significant. In that game, Clayton was knocked out for the season with a knee injury.
No one embodies TCU's team speed more than junior wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who doubles as one of the nation's most lethal returnmen. He introduced himself to much of the nation with a memorable 69-yard punt return for a score two weeks ago against Colorado State.
"One of the things I'm looking at is what we're going to do about Kerley," Sanford said. "He's a dynamic football player. He's one of the best punt returners around."
Making matters worse is that, on offense especially, the Horned Frogs just don't make mistakes.
It starts at the top with junior quarterback Andy Dalton, who's not asked to do too much, but at the same time simply doesn't make bad decisions. He ranks eighth in the nation in passing efficiency, with only three interceptions thrown in 166 attempts.
"Their quarterback position is playing the best its played since they came into the league," Sanford added.
A tough task
There might be no one more integral in keeping Clayton healthy against the Horned Frogs this time around than right tackle Evan Marchal.
The Rebels have only allowed 11 sacks in eight games this season, but TCU is a different animal when it comes to the pass rush. The Horned Frogs are tied for fifth in the nation with 25 quarterback takedowns in seven outings. Leading the way is sensational senior left defensive end Jerry Hughes, who is accountable for 9.5 of those.
He's a sure-fire first-day NFL draft pick and is even garnering a slight Heisman buzz as TCU continues to romp through its 2009 schedule.
"Evan Marchal's gonna have a challenge on his hands," Sanford said.
No one will be more responsible for preparing Marchal for that test in practice this week than senior defensive end/linebacker Jason Beauchamp.
Healthier on Saturday than he'd been at any point so far this season, Beauchamp was named the Mountain West Conference's Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. Against New Mexico, he had nine tackles, three stops for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Sanford said that after suffering both a badly sprained right ankle and sprained MCL in his left knee earlier in the season, Beauchamp is now playing at "95 percent."
He leads the Rebels this season in tackles (50), tackles for loss (9) and sacks (5.5).
Other injury updates
Sophomore tight end Kyle Watkins, who left the field on Saturday in Albuquerque on crutches, is listed as questionable while recovering from an ankle injury.
As for senior receiver Rodelin Anthony, who missed his fourth game of the season this weekend due to injury, is probable for Saturday.