Rebels Football:

Take Five: A closer look at UNLV vs. Utah

In first road game under Bobby Hauck, UNLV opens Mountain West play against a league powerhouse

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Utah running back Eddie Wide gets away from UNLV linebacker Starr Fuimaono, left, and defensive end Heivaha Mafi during the first half of their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on Oct. 17, 2009. Wide, a Las Vegas native, had 111 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns off of only 17 carries in the 35-15 Utes victory.

UNLV vs. No. 20 Utah

  • UNLV Rebels (0-1 overall, 0-0 MWC) vs. Utah Utes (1-0 overall, 0-0 MWC)

  • Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium

  • When: 1 p.m.

  • Coaches: Bobby Hauck 0-1 in his first season at UNLV and 80-18 in eight overall seasons; Kyle Whittingham is 48-17 in six seasons at Utah, which is his first head coaching job.

  • Series: Utah leads, 13-2

  • Last time: Utah won, 35-15, on Oct. 10, 2009, in Las Vegas.

  • Line: Utah by 22

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

  • Rebel to watch: In his first game spearheading the Rebels' new-look defense, senior middle linebacker Ronnie Paulo was all over the field, racking up 11 tackles, including seven of the solo variety. Now fully healthy after fighting off nagging injuries over the past two seasons, look for him to be unleashed again on the Utes.

  • Ute to watch: After enjoying a break-through performance a week ago in a 27-24 overtime victory over Pitt, sophomore receiver DeVonte Christopher now commands more than a little attention. The Canyon Springs High grad will hope to get the best of his hometown school much in the same way he did the Panthers — By spreading the field. After averaging 24.1 yards per catch last year as a redshirt freshman in part-time duty, he earned Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors with eight catches for 155 yards and a touchdown last Thursday.

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Utah receiver and Canyon Springs High grad DeVonte Christopher shakes free for a 61-yard third quarter touchdown on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, against Pitt.

Another week, another ranked opponent.

It's not the only time during the 2010 season in which the Rebels will be able to say that, as they are still in the beginning portion of one of the nation's toughest schedules.

After a 41-21 home loss to Wisconsin opened up the Bobby Hauck era, next up is a road trip to Salt Lake City to face Utah, which checks in in the polls at No. 20 this week. It's well-deserved, as the Utes took down then-No. 15 Pitt last Thursday in overtime, 27-24.

It could be the last time UNLV and Utah meet for a while, as the Utes this summer accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 beginning next season.

The Rebels head to Rice-Eccles Stadium as more than three-touchdown underdogs. It's a venue where UNLV has never won.

Here's what else you need to know with Saturday's game on the horizon.

1) Does it matter who leads the Utes?

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has been nothing but mum on his quarterback issue for this weekend.

Unlike UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, his doesn't come down to a choice, but rather whether his No. 1 guy is healthy enough to play.

Sophomore Jordan Wynn, who broke out late last season and struck his claim to the job moving forward, missed practice earlier this week and is still questionable while nursing a sprained thumb.

Now, of course, he finished last week's win over Pitt with the injury and was 21-of-36 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. But it's the type of injury that can really get you a day or two later.

If he can't go, the start goes to senior Terrance Cain, who lost the starting job mid-season in 2009 to Wynn.

Oddly enough, one of his last starts before grabbing the clipboard came against UNLV, in a 35-15 Utes victory at Sam Boyd Stadium on Oct. 17. In the game, he was an efficient 17-of-24 passing for 174 yards, two touchdowns and no picks, while also running for another score.

At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Cain is a bit more of a dual-threat quarterback, compared to Wynn, who is a pure pocket passer more in the mold of Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, who the Rebels dealt with last weekend.

There could be both positives and negatives for Utah should they have to go with Cain. He could add another dimension to an offense much more diverse than Wisconsin's that will already have UNLV with its hands full, but he could be dealing with some rust, having not thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 7, 2009.

2) A bit of local flavor

Bobby Hauck has said repeatedly in his first year on the job at UNLV that, when it comes to recruiting, he wants to keep local high school talent home.

So far, he's been true to his word in terms of both his actions and results.

But for the time being, he'll have to still deal with the Las Vegas prospects who got away, for whatever reasons, in recent years.

Two of them figure to be key in Saturday's tilt at the skill positions.

One is the reigning Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week — sophomore receiver DeVonte Christopher. The 6-foot speedster led a high-powered offense at Canyon Springs High, but UNLV did not want to recruit him as a quarterback. Utah did, but moved him to receiver after a year, and the move has paid off.

After averaging 24.1 yards per catch last year in a part-time role, he kicked off 2010 right, totaling eight catches for 155 yards and a pivotal third-quarter score against the Panthers.

The other is 5-foot-10 senior running back Eddie Wide. The Cimarron-Memorial grad emerged last season as a full-time starter when Matt Asiata went down to injury and finished his junior campaign with 1,069 yards and 12 touchdown runs on 203 carries. That included 111 yards and two scores on just 17 totes in the victory over the Rebels. After becoming the starter, he surpassed the 100-yard mark in seven of 10 games.

Now, Wide is again splitting time in the backfield with Asiata and others, but he still figures to get his share of touches. He had nine carries and four catches against Pitt.

In all, Utah has five Vegas natives on its roster.

3) Hello again, old friend

If you're looking for any little advantage UNLV might be able to scrounge up for this one, just take a peek at the Rebels' coaching staff.

J.D. Williams, who oversees UNLV's defensive backs and secondary coordination, spent last season coaching cornerbacks at Utah.

Surely, it's something that the Utah staff has planned for, but at the very least, he knows the Utes' personnel quite well.

"He knows all the defensive calls and structures," Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune this week. "You do change a little year to year, but we have had to make changes in calls to combat that. It doesn't matter what J.D. knows, it matters what the offense and QB know. If they can get that info and use it to their advantage, it could be a factor. But we think we changed enough and tweaked enough that it shouldn't be a factor."

4) Run, run, run ... or die trying

Lost in the rubble of last weekend's loss to the Badgers was the fact that it wasn't a very strong debut for UNLV's revamped running game, which Hauck said will be a staple of the offense under his watch.

By the end of the affair, the numbers looked OK, as the Rebels picked up 112 yards on 27 carries.

But look deeper.

In the first half, UNLV was credited for -9 yards on seven rushing attempts. Bradley Randle, Channing Trotter and C.J. Cox each had one unsuccessful carry, while starting quarterback Mike Clausen — who may or may not start again on Saturday — wasn't able to get one legitimate attempt, though he was credited with -15 yards as a result of being sacked three times. Remember, he is the stronger runner of the two quarterbacks atop UNLV's depth chart.

Senior QB Omar Clayton — who, also, may or may not start — was largely responsible for the numbers looking better at the end of the night, scrambling a bunch for 59 yards. True freshman speedster Tim Cornett made a strong first impression out of the backfield in the second half, adding 36 yards of his own on three carries.

Can UNLV change the flow against Utah? We'll know on Saturday. But know this: If the Rebels have trouble establishing the run again, the offense could likely look just as off-balance and unsettled as it did last weekend. Plenty of the onus in that department will fall on the Rebels' offensive line.

5) Uh, yeah, that is a home field advantage

Remember that little nugget earlier on about UNLV having never won at Utah?

Well, not many others have had much success in that department of late, either.

Utah's current 18-game winning streak at Rice-Eccles dates back to Sept. 15, 2007 — almost three years to the date when UNLV heads to town.

That streak is the third-longest active home win streak in the nation behind only Oklahoma (31) and Boise State (26).

What makes it so tough is a student section — also known as the "Muss" — that is among one of the noisiest and most active west of the Mississippi. It is by far the toughest 12th man in the Mountain West. They even hang a "5" poster each time the crowd noise helps induce either a penalty on the opposing offense.

Hauck had crowd noise piped into UNLV's practices at Rebel Park this week, but whether its enough to closely simulate Saturday's atmosphere will be hard to tell until the game is actually played.

One note suggesting that it might not be a major concern is that the Rebels, in front of a crowd of more than 31,000 last weekend that was likely 50-50 between UNLV and Wisconsin fans, mostly avoided procedural flags.

Still, there's no denying that it could play a role.

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  1. Play Smart Rebels and you can win in Salt Lake City but it won't be an easy task

  2. Good luck fellas, you'll need it.