How 'bout that ride in? I guess that's why they call it Sin City.
Central Michigan heads to Las Vegas on Saturday to take on the UNLV Rebels in their third game of the season. The Chippewas lost to Michigan, 59-9, in week one and needed a last-second field goal to beat New Hampshire, the No. 11 team in FCS, last weekend. Despite the tight game, redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, despite not entering the game until halfway through the second quarter.
UNLV is coming off two tough losses to start the season, with a 32-point loss at Minnesota two weeks ago and a 45-point home loss to Rich Rodriguez' Arizona Wildcats last weekend. Two games into head coach Bobby Hauck's fourth season, the Rebels are 6-34 through 40 games. This is after Hauck was 80-17 over seven seasons at Montana.
CMU Rush Offense vs. UNLV Rush Defense
Phil, there is a tiger in the bathroom!
With the loss of Zurlon Tipton, the No. 1 back is now Saylor Lavallii. Lavallii ran for 93 yards against New Hampshire. However, almost half of those yards came on a late 42-yard carry that helped seal the game. If you take that carry away, Lavallii only had 51 yards on 20 rushing attempts, a 2.7 yards-per-carry average. Against a good Michigan defense, Lavallii did rush for 52 yards on 10 carries.
Before Tipton went down, Lavallii was expected to be a solid No. 2 back and take 20-25 percent of the carries. With Lavallii moving to the top spot, the No. 2 job is now open and right now, junior Anthony Garland is listed as the top backup, but CMU has yet to find a consistent second back to take some of the heat off Lavallii. With the quarterback job now in Rush's hand, the read-option game that the Chippewas employed with Kater and Niznak will likely be put back into storage and the rush offense will go back to more of a traditional attack.
With the loss of Jake Olson this week to season-ending wrist surgery, redshirt sophomore Ramadan Ahmeti is expected to make his first career start at left tackle. The offensive's line play in the first two games has been streaky and losing a talent like Olson is not going to help that.
This is a UNLV rush defense that struggled mightily last season, allowing 207.1 ypg on their way to being the 106th ranked rushing defense. The Rebels returned nine starters on defense, but allowed Minnesota to rush for 221 yards and gave up 397 rushing yards to Arizona. UNLV runs a traditional 4-3 defense and has six returning starters in the front seven. The only non-returning starter is redshirt freshman Tau Lotulelei, who starts at the WILL linebacker spot. Tau's is taking the spot of his older brother, John Lotulelei, who led UNLV in tackles last season, earning a spot on the All-Mountain West first team.
This has to be a matchup in favor of CMU. This rush defense has been awful every year that Hauck has been in Las Vegas (99th in 2011, 116th in 2010 and 112th in 2009) and if the Chippewas can't run consistently against the Rebels, it's going to be a struggle the rest of the season.
CMU Pass Offense vs. UNLV Pass Defense
They're gonna give Daddy the Rainman Suite, you dig that?!
After Kater and Niznak struggled through the first five quarters of the season, CMU head coach Dan Enos inserted Rush, who had never taken a college snap, into the New Hampshire game in the middle of the second quarter. All he did was complete 19 of his 32 attempts for 326 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, in two and a half quarters. If he had kept that rate up over a whole game, he would have finished with 500-plus passing yards.
It's only one game, so it's possible that Rush never has another performance like that in his career. However, Chippewa fans have to be excited about the future of the quarterback position.
The young quarterback certainly had good chemistry with All-MAC receiver Titus Davis. Rush connected with Davis six times for 184 yards and two touchdowns, including a crucial 97-yard touchdown pass with just over nine minutes left in the game. Sophomore Andrew Flory also picked up four receptions while Rush was in the game. Flory leads CMU with nine receptions on the season and is the only other Chippewas with 100-plus receiving yards in 2013.
Rush also won't hesitate to throw to his fullbacks and tight ends, going to Adam Fenton and Connor Odykirk twice against UNH.
After two games, UNLV is actually ninth in the country in pass efficiency defense. They held Minnesota starting quarterback Philip Nelson to 99 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, while completing 10-of-22 pass attempts. The Rebels also forced Arizona starting quarterback B.J. Denker into completing only eight of his 21 pass attempts. Denker only threw for 81 yards and no touchdowns.
However, in both those games, UNLV was being gashed by their opponent's rushing attack. Arizona ran the ball 69 times and Minnesota ran it 38 times. Opponents have run the ball more than 70 percent in their first two games. There was not much pressure on the Rebel secondary. Last fall, UNLV had the 108th ranked pass efficiency defense in the nation last season.
Both corners and starting strong safety Peni Vea are returning starters. The only non-returning starter in the secondary is free safety Frank Crawford, who played three seasons at Ole Miss in the SEC.
The Rebels are 71st in the nation in sack percentage, despite teams only throwing the ball on 29.8 percent of plays. Starting defensive tackle Alex Klorman has one sack, while backup tackle Asten Koki and starting defensive end Jordan Sparkman each have 0.5 sacks. CMU has struggled protecting the quarterback, giving up sacks on 12.5 percent of pass plays, which is 112th in the country. However, four of the five sacks they've given up in two games came at Michigan.
UNLV fans will find out if their No. 9 pass efficiency defense is legitimate, with CMU bringing a fantastic receiving corps and a quarterback with a big arm to Las Vegas. How Ahmeti performs in pass protection will be huge, but if the line gives Rush time, CMU should be able to hit on big pass plays and move the ball through the air.
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