On paper, the Michigan football team’s third foe of the season is its least daunting so far. UNLV enters Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium lacking three things: a win, a Power Five conference affiliation and an established college football coach.
But it is the third of those shortcomings that could have made the Wolverines’ preparation for Saturday’s contest difficult. The Rebels are led by coach Tony Sanchez who — like Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — is in his first year at the school. However, Sanchez’s résumé looks very different from Harbaugh’s: Prior to this season, he had never held a position higher than an undergraduate assistant at the collegiate level. Now, Sanchez is faced with a thorough rebuilding job. His team won just two games last season.
Sanchez arrived at UNLV this offseason from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, where he compiled an 85-5 record in six seasons to go along with six straight state titles. Sanchez sent 25 players to Football Bowl Subdivision schools during his tenure at Bishop Gorman. Prior to his time at Bishop Gorman, Sanchez had held various different coaching positions at high schools in California, New Mexico and Texas.
Michigan was forced to get a little creative in preparing for the Rebels this week because of Sanchez’s limited body of work at the collegiate level. Harbaugh said Monday that the Wolverines would study film of the teams Sanchez’s assistants have worked with in the past. But making judgments and preparations solely based off of Sanchez’s high school games could be difficult.
Harbaugh did not seem overly concerned with the proposition, confident that his staff would get the job done and “dive in and start attacking” the preparation. Harbaugh, though he has never met Sanchez in person, has been impressed with UNLV’s coach.
“I like that he’s come from a non-traditional way of doing it,” Harbaugh said. “I like following him. I like watching what his career’s going to be like. He’s had success. Looks good. I like the way he coaches his team. I like the way they’re playing. But at the same time, we’ve got to guard against it and make sure we play well.”
The matchup could present another opportunity for Michigan’s run game to gel. The Wolverines rushed for 225 yards last weekend against Oregon State, providing the team with something to build off of against UNLV’s rush defense, which has struggled so far this year. The Rebels allowed 273 yards on the ground last weekend against UCLA and 185 in their season opener against Northern Illinois. If Michigan can pound the run game, it could open things up and render some of the question marks about UNLV’s game plan irrelevant.
The Rebels’ pass defense, though, should enter the game with some level of confidence. UNLV intercepted three passes against the Bruins last weekend, and even though two of them came late in the game when UCLA’s backup quarterback was under center, the Rebels did manage to pick off Bruins freshman sensation Josh Rosen once. Michigan fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock will look to avoid the same fate after starting off his Wolverine career with four interceptions in two games.
If he’s able to control the turnovers, Sanchez’s first win at the collegiate level will be much harder to come by. But no matter what happens Saturday, Harbaugh believes Sanchez’s wins will come, despite his unorthodox coaching background.
“More than one way to skin a cat,” Harbaugh said.