Kellen Moore has an opportunity to break the Football Bowl Subdivision record for wins by a quarterback if Boise State can get past UNLV Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Moore currently sits in a tie with former Texas star Colt McCoy with 45 wins.
The Broncos have had an extra week to prepare for the Rebels and after a physical game with Air Force, should be as healthy as they’ve been at any point in the season. Senior defensive tackle Chase Baker should be back in the lineup next to native Las Vegan Billy Winn although Mike Atkinson has played well in his place and the return of Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe against Air Force went as well as could be expected.
Senior center Thomas Byrd has played off and on the past couple of games as he fights through his knee injury and he figures to continue to split time with Matt Paradis and Cory Yriarte. Joe Kellogg is back at left guard and the line is as healthy as it has been since losing starting right guard Jake Broyles for the season to an injury.
The Broncos fell to #5 in the most recent BCS standings after Stanford’s triple overtime win over USC vaulted the Cardinal past BSU. An expected hit in the computer rankings due to UNLV’s profile as one of the worst teams in the country must be overcome by a renewed faith by the voters. That means that Boise State cannot afford to win this game by 11 points, as it did against Air Force, or even by 20 or 30. They must win big to leave no doubt that they are among the nation’s elite.
UNLV is coming off a win against Colorado State, only its 2nd win of the season. Winning by three over a team that Boise State beat on the road by 50 points doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment but Coach Bobby Hauck will take any wins he can get at this point.
The challenge of facing the Broncos got that much harder when Hauck announced the suspensions of five players this week including sophomore running back Tim Cornett and starting linebacker Tani Maka. The Rebels have already struggled tremendously on offense this year and the loss of Cornett certainly hurts.
The Rebels have used two quarterbacks of late but sophomore Caleb Herring has played the majority of the snaps and figures to do so again on Saturday, barring ineffectiveness. Herring has completed only 54% of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. JC transfer Sean Reilly has stepped in at times but has not produced much this season.
Without Cornett, the Rebels will lean heavily on true freshman Dionza Bradford who leads the team in rushing with 371 yards. Bradford has only one touchdown on the season, however, as Cornett was the primary back in the red zone. Sophomore Bradley Randle has pushed for additional playing time and will likely get more opportunities against the Broncos. Herring also runs the ball a fair amount, often as much out of desperation as design.
One position the Rebels have unquestioned talent is at wide receiver where Phillip Payne has been a big-play threat all season. Payne leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns as the primary receiving threat. Michael Johnson starts opposite Payne and gives the Rebels a deep threat with his speed. Trey Mays is the only other regular in the receiving unit with at least four receptions this season.
Austin Harrington and Anthony Vidal have split time at the tight end position and are fourth and fifth on the team, respectively, in receptions. Neither has been much of a factor in the passing game as the Rebels tend to look for Payne and their running backs first with the tight ends being a check-down option at best.
Like the Broncos, the Rebels have been hit hard with injuries at the offensive line position this season. Jason Koontz and Sean Tesoro will be unavailable for the game and starting right tackle Yusef Rodgers is questionable with a leg injury. Cameron Jefferson has been starting at left guard but would take Rodgers’ place at right tackle if he can’t play.
Doug Zismann, the only returning starter from a season ago, has been a fixture at right guard while freshman Robert Waterman has taken over at center and Brett Boyko has settled in at left tackle. Junior Jason Heath has experience backing up both spots along the interior.
Even with the struggles of the offensive unit, it’s been the ineffective play of the UNLV defense that has been their undoing. The Rebels are 118th in the country in scoring defense, allowing over 40 points per game. The pass defense has been the biggest culprit as they allow an astonishing 286 yards per contest and have given up 18 touchdown passes in seven games.
To compete with Boise State, the defensive line will have to generate a lot of pressure on Kellen Moore and this group has not proven it is capable of rushing the passer. The Rebels have 10 sacks in seven games and haven’t been much better stopping the run. Opponents are averaging 4.6 yards per carry and total 170 yards per game on the ground.
Senior defensive end James Dunlap leads the team with 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. He has been the only pass rusher to have any success this year. Matt Kravetz and B.J. Bell have manned the other defensive end spot but have combined for only 21 tackles and half a sack. Trent Allmang-Wilder, a JC transfer, has also found himself in the end rotation.
The tackle position is very young with three sophomores and a freshman getting the majority of the playing time. Alex Klorman and Nate Holloway return from a season ago and fellow sophomore Tyler Gaston is 2nd on the team with two sacks, playing both inside and out. True freshman Desmond Tautofi is a former grayshirt who joined the rotation this year and has played in all seven games.
The linebacker position took a hit with the suspension of Maka as he shared the team lead in tackles with middle linebacker Nate Carter as well as leading the team with two interceptions. Princeton Jackson has stepped in and played well as a JC transfer. Jackson has 31 tackles and two sacks among his three tackles for loss. Tim Hasson, C.J. Cox and William Vea have all seen time at linebacker this season as well.
The secondary has been much maligned, producing only four interceptions while giving up close to 290 yards per game. Seniors Will Chandler and Quinton Pointer lead the cornerbacks with sophomore Sidney Hodge a playmaker in the group who has three fumble recoveries and four pass breakups. Senior Mike Clausen has seen increased playing time in the past few games as well after not seeing the field in the opener against Wisconsin.
The safeties are led by senior Daniel Harper and freshman Tajh Hasson. Junior Kenny Brown and Eric Tuiloma-Va’a have rotated in as well. The entire defensive backfield has been a sore spot for the Rebels and will likely get picked apart by Kellen Moore on Saturday.
Chase Lansford, another junior college transfer, has been solid as the new punter and kickoff specialist. Lansford is hitting his punts for an average of 43 yards per kick but opponents are averaging over 11 yards per return as well. With as many opportunities as the Rebels give their punt coverage unit, teams are bound to break a big one now and then and Boise State’s returners are fully capable of just that.
Nolan Kohorst is just 5-10 on field goal tries this year although he has shown a decent leg with a 50-yard kick as well as three others from over 40 yards. Deante Purvis and Bradley Randle have been the primary kick returners while Michael Johnson is the only Rebel to return a punt so far this season. Purvis and Cornett have both returned kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
A Rebel team at full strength would have struggled to keep pace with the prolific Boise State offense and the job is much harder without the services of Cornett and Maka. The UNLV running game is their only chance to stay on the field and keep Moore and the Bronco offense on the sidelines and that task now falls to true freshman Bradford and the diminutive Randle. Expect Boise State to load the box and force Herring to beat them with his arm, something he’s been incapable of doing this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Rebels have been unable to stop the pass and Moore’s receiving group should have a field day finding soft spots in the UNLV secondary. Doug Martin has come on strong in the past few games and the Broncos will surely attempt to keep their running game sharp as they prepare for TCU next week.
This game should prove to be no contest from the beginning. Moore will easily post his record-setting 46th win as a starting quarterback and the Broncos will make a national statement with a huge win over the out-classed Rebels.
Final Score Prediciton: Boise State 56, UNLV 3