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September 13, 2013

UNLV prep: CMU defense vs. UNLV offense

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 6-3

UNLV Rush Offense vs. CMU Rush Defense

This isn't the real Caesar's Palace, is it?

The Rebels are fairly balanced, running the ball 45 percent of the time. In recent seasons, running back Tim Cornett has played a huge role in the offense. Cornett, who is an All-Mountain West talent has led UNLV in rushing yards during each of his three seasons in Las Vegas. As a junior last year, Cornett averaged 18.6 carries-per-game and finished the season with 1,232 rushing yards. During his sophomore season Cornett split carries with Dionza Bradford, but still led UNLV with 691 yards, and rushed for 546 yards during his freshman campaign.

This season, he has half of UNLV's carries, with 35 rushing attempts through two games. Last fall, Bradley Randle was the No. 2 running back and finished with 635 yards. This season, the No. 2 back is Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, who is a game breaker. Murray-Lawrence has 190 yards, and I had to confirm this, on EIGHT carries. That's 23.8 ypc, including a carry against Minnesota for negative two yards. So, 192 yards on seven carries. He is a huge threat, but I have to wonder why he only has eight carries.

Sophomore quarterback Tim Sherry did not make much of a difference in the running game last year, but has 32 yards on 10 carries, after sacks are taken out. Sherry has a big frame, at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. I'm not sure how fast he is, but I have to imagine he's tough to bring down in the open field.

UNLV's base set has a tight end and fullback/H-Back. The strength of the offensive line is the interior, where junior left guard Cameron Jefferson and junior center Robert Waterman have a combined 49 career starts. I'm not sure how much they use the option game to get Sherry involved, but this is going to be a tough rushing attack for CMU to deal with. The Chippewas gave up 242 rushing yards at Michigan in week one and 158 yards to New Hampshire last week.

UNLV Pass Offense vs. CMU Pass Defense

And you never walk away from the table when you're on a heater

This could be the matchup that decides the game. UNLV is 102nd in passing efficiency and CMU is 85th in pass efficiency defense. Sherry was solid against Minnesota, going 35-for-50, with 226 passing yards and two touchdowns, with two picks. However, he was dreadful against Arizona. Sherry only completed six of his 22 pass attempts against the Wildcats, finishing with 111 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions.

CMU probably doesn't have as talented a secondary as Arizona, so it's tough to expect that dreadful of a performance from Sherry on Saturday. Last season, as a redshirt freshman, he threw for 2,544 yards and 16 interceptions, but had 17 interceptions. While Sherry probably won't be as bad as he was against the Wildcats, he is certainly talented enough to play at a level that could lead to a UNLV win.

Sherry's top receiver from 2012 was Devante Davis, who finished with 854 receiving yards. Davis is back and as a junior, leads the Rebels with 161 receiving yards through two games this season. Davis is a big receiver, at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and will provide a challenge for whichever CMU cornerback covers him. That may end up being Brandon Greer, who, at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, is probably more equipped to deal with Davis' size than Jason Wilson, who is 6-foot-0, 185 pounds.

Sophomore Anthony Williams is listed as the second starter at wide receiver, but only has two catches for 19 yards in UNLV's first two games. The second-leading receiver has been senior Maika Mataele, with 73 yards on 12 catches. The other receiving options are junior Aaron Criswell and get this, senior Jerry Rice, Jr. Starting tight end Jake Phillips has four receptions this season. Cornett and Murray-Lawrence have five combined catches out of the backfield, but it looks like UNLV wants to feature their receivers, particularly Davis, who is their best deep threat.

The Rebel offensive line has done a good job protecting Sherry, only allowing sacks on 2.47 percent of passing plays, 23rd in the nation. CMU is only ranked 72nd nationally in sacks-per-pass-attempt. That number is skewed a bit because of the Michigan game, when they only had one sack. The Chippewas had four sacks against New Hampshire.

CMU has to force Sherry into making mistakes. I know he's young, but he has 21 interceptions in 14 career starts. He has been turnover-prone. CMU is +2 in turnover margin this season, while UNLV is -3. Turnovers are a big factor in every game, but even more so in games like this one, where teams are this evenly matched. Sophomore safety Kavon Frazier has been a playmaker for the CMU defense in 2013. It's obviously too early to say if he can fill Jahleel Addae's shoes, but he's been brilliant so far and could be a factor again in the desert.

Special Teams

Vegas, baby, Vegas!

UNLV senior kicker Nolan Kohorst was on the All-MWC first team last season, making 8-of-11 field goals, with a long of 47 yards. He was perfect inside 40 yards, but only hit one of his four attempts beyond that. This year, he is just 1-for-3. All three attempts were against Minnesota. Kohorst hit a 32-yard field goal, had a 37-yarder blocked and missed one from 49 yards out. For his career, he is 30-for-42 and is 7-for-12 outside 40 yards.

For CMU, freshman kicker Ron Coluzzi has been great so far in replacing David Harman, hitting all four attempts in 2013, but has not been tested from long range yet. His longest field goal attempt has been 33 yards.

UNLV has been slightly better in the punt game. The Rebels are 58th in net punting and 77th in punt returns. CMU is 78th in net punting and 108th in punt returns. CMU has had the better kick return result thus far, at 53rd nationally, while UNLV is 90th in the country.

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