REBELS FOOTBALL:

Take Five: A closer look at UNLV vs. Colorado State

Rebels hope to improve to 2-1 in MWC play against an equally struggling foe

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AP FILE PHOTO

Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas, right, discusses strategy with Rams coach Steve Fairchild during the team’s 27-0 loss to TCU in Fort Collins, Colo., on Oct. 2, 2010.

UNLV vs. Colorado State

  • UNLV Rebels (1-5 overall, 1-1 MWC) vs. Colorado State Rams (1-5 overall, 0-2 MWC)

  • Where: Hughes Stadium (cap. 32,500)

  • When: 11:00 a.m.

  • Coaches: Bobby Hauck 1-5 in his first season at UNLV and 81-22 in eight overall seasons; Steve Fairchild is 11-20 in his third season at CSU, which is his first head coaching job.

  • Series: CSU leads, 5-12-1.

  • Last time: UNLV won, 35-16, on Nov. 7, 2009, in Las Vegas

  • Line: CSU by 3.5

  • TV/Radio:The Mtn./ESPN Radio 1100-AM

  • Rebel to watch: Against a struggling run defense, this could be the break-out performance for UNLV's speedy freshman running back Tim Cornett, who has gradually moved his way to the top of the depth chart and is coming off of his best performance of the season so far last weekend at West Virginia.

  • Ram to watch: If UNLV fails to get pressure on true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas, he could do some damage for 60 minutes. So far this season, it's been hard for opponents to truly rattle him, as he's completing 67.5 percent of his passes.

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In short, the UNLV football team now gets a chance to see if playing against mostly elite competition so far this season — and taking lumps while doing so — will pay off against a team more on its level.

The Rebels (1-5 overall, 1-1 Mountain West Conference) travel for a second consecutive week, this time to face Colorado State (1-5, 0-2) in a Saturday matinee in Fort Collins, Colo.

Four of UNLV's first six opponents this season are currently in the Top 25 polls, while another — Idaho — appears well on its way to a second straight bowl berth.

Will the Rebels' fortunes change now in what is viewed as a very winnable game? Here now is a closer look at Saturday's 11 a.m. clash.

1) No more Payne?

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck has yet to make an announcement on the status of junior receiver Phillip Payne, who was left home from last weekend's trip to West Virginia after making disparaging comments regarding the program on his Twitter feed.

If you read between the lines, it appears unlikely that he'll be on the field come Saturday afternoon, after working the entire week buried on the scout team. That's in addition to the fact that he was not among the five receivers listed on this week's depth chart.

Assuming he isn't a big part of UNLV's game plan, it's a big blow for the Rebels, who will be without their best offensive play-maker and top red zone threat for a second straight game.

In last weekend's 49-10 loss to the Mountaineers, the six receivers UNLV cycled into the game combined for six receptions.

2) A breakthrough on the ground?

If Payne is out of the fold, UNLV has a golden opportunity to get its ground game going heading into the bye week.

The struggles of the Rebels' run defense have been well-documented so far, as they rank 105th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, allowing an average of 206.3 yards per game the old-fashioned way.

Meanwhile, CSU has been worse, ranking 110th at 210.83 yards an outing.

This bodes well for a UNLV run game that is somewhat in transition.

Bradley Randle, Channing Trotter and C.J. Cox at this point are all battling nagging injuries, and it's opened the door for a couple of upstarts to make some progress — true freshman Tim Cornett and junior converted cornerback Deante' Purvis.

Both are speedy, and both could have huge games against the struggling Rams if UNLV is as dedicated to the ground game as it has been in recent weeks.

Cornett last week had 56 yards on 12 carries, while Purvis saw his first extensive action out of the backfield, picking up 48 yards on 17 carries while attacking holes in the line with consistent force.

Expect to hear both names called quite a bit in Fort Collins.

3) No ordinary freshman

Securing a commitment from highly-touted prep quarterback Pete Thomas out of El Cajon, Calif., was maybe Steve Fairchild's top get on the recruiting trail in three years with the program.

Thomas chose CSU over the likes of Arizona State and Northwestern, and he's held the reins to the Rams' offense all season.

After a turbulent first few weeks, he led the Rams to a 36-34 victory over Idaho on Sept. 25 by going 29-of-36 for 386 yards, three TDs and just one pick.

At that point, he appeared to find a nice stride.

Thomas has five TD passes and eight interceptions to his credit on the season, but most impressive is his 67.5 completion percentage. Unlike the past few seasons, the Rams aren't taking tons of chances downfield, but rather relying on a short, simplified passing attack to ease Thomas in. So far, he's responding well.

4) Plugging the holes

A week didn't help UNLV get much healthier after playing somewhat short-handed at West Virginia due to a rash of injuries.

The biggest one to overcome, for the second consecutive week, will be that of senior linebacker Starr Fuimaono, who is nursing a foot injury. He is tied for third on the team this season with 28 tackles.

With him likely being out, a key for UNLV on defense will be the play of his likely replacement — true freshman and former UCLA signee Tani Maka.

Maka had a tough time out of the gates last weekend at West Virginia, but finished with four tackles and delivered a nice hit on quarterback Geno Smith on a weak side blitz.

5) Late bloomer

A tough assignment for UNLV could be containing the surging Leonard Mason out of CSU's backfield.

He was lost on the team's depth chart before the season while recovering from a hamstring injury, and after working his way back up the ladder, the Rams' leading rusher from 2009 finally broke out in 2010 last weekend against Air Force.

In the loss, he racked up 139 yards, which now makes him the team leader in rushing yardage with 175 on 33 carries.

It could be a sign that CSU's running game is on the verge of a turnaround, as he's likely to get tons of touches again this weekend.

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  1. OK, I've traveled 500 miles to support my UNLV Rebels at Ft. Collins. So far, the micro-brews are above-average and the food is exceptional.

    All Rebel supporters: Se you tomorrow morning. I have wheat beers and a bad attitude from a 1-4 start. See ya!!!

  2. UNLV is making CSU look like TCU

  3. What else can we say... We are really bad in almost every aspect of the game. If the Rebels don't improve in the next few years of the Hauck era they really should consider cutting the program..