UNLV is undergoing a painful transition from a bad passing team to a bad balanced offense. The Rebels look much like San Diego State looked in 2009, when the Aztecs underwent much the same transition.
The difference today? San Diego State has three quality players on offense—two all conference performers at receiver, and one a runningback.
Sadly, the Rebels are not so blessed. UNLV is still rotating through its roster, mixing and matching players at various positions, waiting for a spark. The backfield has been manned by seven or eight different players, lately best by former-cornerback Deante’ Purvis and true freshman Tim Cornett. Third-string quarterback Caleb Herring looked decent—nay, pretty good—against West Virginia. Backup left cornerback Sidney Hodge, a freshman, now starts at right corner; tight end Austin Harrington emerged to fill WR Philip Payne’s roll as a go-to receiver while Payne was suspended. UNLV didn’t even use tight ends when it was a pass-first team.
Part of their problem has been injuries and a highly visible suspension. A full dozen players from the two-deep have been out at one time or another this season; seven more (at least) have played through injuries. The Rebels have healed up somewhat in the bye, and will face TCU with only four starters deep missing: QB Clausen, RB Cox, DT Feagai, and CB Pointer. The best news for UNLV this week is that suspended wideout Philip Payne (the team’s leading WR even after missing two games), and linebacker Starr Fuimaono return to action against the Frogs.
But the pain remains: UNLV in 2010 is a bad team. It ranks in the bottom third of the Mountain West in yards gained, rushing yards, passing yards. Positively, the Rebels are fifth in the conference in points and points-per-game (129, 18.4). However, UNLV gives up over 36 points a game. It's 1-6 record needs little further explanation.
But UNLV couldn’t have drawn TCU at a better time. The Frogs have travelled outside the state of Texas only once this season, and are only eight days removed from the biggest game of the season—another ESPN GameDay showcase with Utah. Adding to the distractions built in to the matchup with the Rebels, the game, which is by all measures a speedbump on the road to the big game on November 6th, doesn’t start until 10:00 PM central time. The schedule will test the Frogs’ road discipline off the field, as well as on it. Finally, it may be a windy and chilly night at Sam Boyd Stadium—weather quite outside the normal for the Frogs.
While the disparities in talent and experience that favor the Frogs are still in play, the Rebels will have as much home-field advantage as possible for the struggling program when TCU finally takes the field, late on Saturday night.
TCU will sport a healthier offensive line and ground game than it has recently, with Zach Roth back in his usual stomping grounds at right tackle. Waymon James is back on the bus, after a week off for a concussion. Look for TCU to power its way over the Rebels, and pass as a compliment. If the Frogs are unfocused, look for UNLV to capitalize on TCU mistakes, and avoid a shutout. TCU 42, UNLV 10.