Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech talk about what to expect from UNLV's trip to face a loaded TCU squad this weekend in Fort Worth. The guys both are taking TCU, but have differing philosophies on how it'll all play out. Plus, a look at what's the latest from UNLV's first couple weeks of hoops practices.
- 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
Typically, the only time Evan Marchal is noticed by the casual UNLV football fan is if his number is called for a penalty.
However, the Rebels' junior right tackle will be closely watched on Saturday, as the team travels south to face 7-0 TCU, which is now up to No. 6 in the BCS rankings.
One of the biggest reasons for the Horned Frogs' rise into the national spotlight is senior defensive end Jerry Hughes.
Believe it or not, Hughes was recruited to TCU by coach Gary Patterson to be a running back. Now, at 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds with speed to burn, he's one of the nation's most feared pass-rushers.
He made noise as a junior by recording 19.5 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks. After returning for his senior campaign, Hughes is at it again, with 10.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and nine quarterback takedowns.
In the process, he's even begun to pick up a bit of Heisman buzz and is set to be paid handsomely for his craft, be it as a defensive end or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, when next April's NFL Draft rolls around.
On the flip side, for Marchal, going against Hughes last season was a trial by fire.
Their matchup could play a key role in deciding if UNLV keeps it a game or it gets out of hand early, which has happened a few times in this series.
Hughes finished with four tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass break-up in a 44-14 TCU victory at Sam Boyd Stadium last season.
"Seeing them on film from last year and two years before, you get the tendencies and then try to do your best," Marchal said. "I don't necessarily change my approach. I go into it like a normal week, go through practice the same way every week, try to be the best I can. It really doesn't change for me. I really don't think there's anything different than a normal week.
"But I can tell you this: He's going to bring it every play. He's got a motor, and he's not going to stop."
Led by the efforts of Hughes, TCU comes into Saturday's game ranked fifth out of 120 FBS teams in sacks with 25. In turn, the Horned Frogs are 10th in the nation in pass defense, allowing only 161.3 yards per game through the air.
Sure, it helps that TCU starts a pair of future NFL cornerbacks in seniors Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest. But it all starts with making quarterbacks uncomfortable and forcing poor decisions.
The defense showed that last week in a thorough 38-7 whipping of BYU. Hughes & Co. sacked Cougar quarterback Max Hall five times and forced him to act more quickly than he was accustomed to. Hall threw for just 164 yards and was picked off once.
"He's extremely explosive and quick," UNLV offensive line coach Gary Bernardi said of Hughes. "I know the sacks are a big issue, but he makes a lot of plays with tackles for losses, too.
"You've got to play with technique. If you're going against a guy that's a physically gifted guy, then you'd better have good technique."
Marchal called Hughes the best defensive end he's seen in the Mountain West, and has made a point of watching film from last year's game extensively, no matter how ugly it might have been.
He said the one thing he wants to change this time around in a true heavyweight battle is that he wants to play with a nastier, more physical flair.
Meanwhile, just as busy on the other side of the line will be junior left tackle Matt Murphy.
He will have to handle 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior Wayne Daniels, who has performed well in Hughes' shadow with 5.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
Murphy also lined up for almost every snap of last season's lopsided defeat, which was the last time junior Omar Clayton lined up at quarterback for the Rebels in 2008. He suffered a torn MCL in his right knee.
"Anytime he gets hit, we take that personally," Murphy said. "It's definitely a pride issue for the o-line."
So far this season, the pass protection has been a bright spot for UNLV.
The Rebels rank 27th in the FBS in passing offense, while UNLV quarterbacks have only been sacked 11 times in eight games, which ties for 34th in the country.
Part of that can be attributed to the mobility of Clayton and sophomore backup Mike Clausen, but still the Rebels have defended the edges and withstood blitzes with success.
Now comes the biggest test of them all.
"(Evan) and Matt are really good technicians, and they study really hard," Bernardi said. "The tools that you give them, they spend time studying.
"I'm sure they'll do something we haven't seen before, too. Their defense is just extremely explosive."
Fundraiser for Saldi
UNLV linebacker Bryce Saldi, who is in a rehabilitation center in Plan, Texas, still recovering from a head injury suffered this summer, will have a fundraiser held in his honor at Southlake Carroll High School on Friday night.
Saldi helped Southlake to three 5A Division-I championships in his prep days. The fundraiser will include a pregame barbecue tailgate outside of Dragon Stadium where donations can be made, TEAM SALDI T-shirts ($20) and bracelets ($5) and a raffle, with proceeds going to the Bryce Saldi Trust in order to help offset medical expenses.
Due to UNLV's travel schedule, a few officials and players will hopefully be able to arrive just in time to catch the "Embrace Bryce" event, and coach Mike Sanford along with a few players hope to be able to visit Saldi in the rehab center.
You can send your best to Saldi by clicking here.