Michigan and UNLV enter their Week 3 matchup riding completely opposite waves of momentum.
The Wolverines cruised to a 35-7 win over Oregon State in coach Jim Harbaugh’s home debut, while the Rebels were the victims of a 37-3 pounding at the hands of No. 10 UCLA.
And while Michigan fans should have learned by now not to take an opponent for granted, this one feels lopsided coming in. UNLV runs the ball a lot, but that just happens to be the strength of the Wolverines’ defense. The Rebels also aren’t great at stopping the run, which is exactly what Michigan will try to make them do.
Here’s the Daily’s breakdown of the upcoming matchup:
Michigan pass offense vs. UNLV pass defense
Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch said Wednesday he would love for his quarterback to have 70 percent completions, two touchdowns and no interceptions in any game. For fifth-year senior Jake Rudock, achieving those goals may be a little tricky against the Rebels.
UNLV limited UCLA’s true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen to just 223 yards on 22-for-42 passing with one touchdown and an interception. Some of those incompletions were unforced errors by Rosen, to be sure, but Rosen is also a more talented quarterback than Rudock.
The Bruins didn’t complete a pass longer than 29 yards, but that shouldn’t be much of a concern for Michigan, which will do most of its damage in the short- and mid-range passing game.
Michigan has the edge in the passing game, but it likely won’t need it. The Wolverines should be up big by halftime, and if last week was any indication, they’ll roll with the ground game the rest of the way.
Michigan rush offense vs. UNLV rush defense
A week after pounding Oregon State for 126 yards and three touchdowns, junior running back De’Veon Smith will have another chance to run wild against the Rebels. UNLV allowed 5.8 yards per carry to UCLA last week, and Michigan has a good chance to exploit the defense for similar numbers on Saturday.
Beyond Smith, Harbaugh indicated Monday that redshirt junior running back Drake Johnson would have a larger role in the offense this week. Johnson is coming off his second torn anterior cruciate ligament, but if he can emerge with a productive game this weekend, it would be great news for the Wolverines.
Johnson was able to pick up chunks of yards toward the end of last season, and he could be extremely valuable as a change of pace.
Michigan should be able to outmuscle UNLV at the line, and with Smith’s penchant for breaking tackles, it could be a long day for the Rebels.
UNLV pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
Even when their starting quarterback is at full health, this isn’t an area of strength for the Rebels. UNLV averages 192.5 pass yards per game, 88th-most in the country.
Things could be even worse against Michigan, as starting quarterback Blake Decker is questionable with a strained leg muscle.
If Decker can’t go, or is limited, sophomore Kurt Palandech will be under center for the Rebels. Palandech is inexperienced, so it’s unclear how much they’ll throw if he’s in the game. Against UCLA, he was 4-for-15 for four yards passing.
One thing UNLV does have in the passing game is a target who can challenge junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Devonte Boyd has eight receptions for 162 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown catch against Northern Illinois.
Still, there’s not much chance of the Rebels consistently making big plays through the air. Decker is a capable signal-caller, but he’s at the mercy of a relatively small offensive line and a Michigan pass rush that includes behemoth redshirt junior Willie Henry.
UNLV rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Neither aspect of UNLV’s offense is very good, but if you were forced to pick one, its run game is slightly more threatening. Junior Keith Whitely is the go-to back when the Rebels run the ball, and he has been solid thus far in 2015.
Whitely averages 4.3 yards per carry, and while that’s buoyed by one 41-yard rush, his 33 carries this season mean the Wolverines can expect to see a steady dose of him Saturday.
Fortunately for Michigan, its run defense is plenty equipped to handle Whitely and any other back the Rebels roll out. Redshirt junior Chris Wormley has been a monster on the defensive line, and there’s no reason to believe that will change against UNLV.
The Rebels lean toward a more power-running style, but, oddly, they do so primarily out of the shotgun. That means the ball carrier is starting behind the line of scrimmage, and with an offensive line that’s far from intimidating, that means trouble for UNLV.
Freshman receiver Brian Cole came close to blocking numerous punts last week against Oregon State, something that will be fun to watch as the season goes on. Redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers is always a threat to take one to the house, and he has proven to be sure-handed fielding punts as well.
Fifth-year senior punter Blake O’Neill has been as good as advertised — if not better — and senior Kenny Allen has displayed a pair of quality placekicking performances.
For the Rebels, Nolan Kohorst is an asset at placekicker. He’s 4-for-4 on the year with an impressive long of 51, but even that depends on the Rebels’ ability to get him to the 34-yard line. Logan Yunker averages 42.8 yards per punt — the exact same as O’Neill — and will be the first non-Australian punter Michigan has faced this year.
Neither team has been especially good in the return game, but Peppers is the most dangerous returner by far.
UNLV will be fired up to earn its first win of the season, but must attempt to do so in front of more than 100,000 fans. Michigan will be riding a wave of momentum from its drubbing of Oregon State.
Both teams have new coaches, but the Rebels’ Tony Sanchez was a high school coach from 1998 before this season, while Harbaugh is straight out of the NFL.
Look for Harbaugh to keep his team grounded, not for Sanchez to seize the moment.
Prediction: Michigan 38, UNLV 6