#93 UNLV Football 2016 Preview

UNLV Rebels
Overall Rank: #93
#7 Mountain West
UNLV appears to be moving in the right direction under Coach Tony Sanchez. In his first year with the program in 2015, Coach Sanchez won three games and that is a step in the right direction. Perhaps more importantly, he has the Rebel faithful believing that this team can win some games. This is a team that should win four or five games and six is certainly not out of the question.
2015 Record: 3-9, 2-6
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Tony Sanchez (3-9 at UNLV, 3-9 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Barney Cotton
Defensive Coordinator: Kent Baer
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Keith Whitely, RB, 711 yards
Passing: Kurt Palandech, QB, 794 yards
Receiving: Devonte Boyd, WR, 904 yards
Tackles: Ryan McAleenan, LB, 85
Sacks: Tau Lotulelei, LB, 3.0
Interceptions: Tim Hough, DB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Lexington Thomas, RB Xzaviar Campbell, WR Kendal Keys, DL Jeremiah Valoaga
Key Losses: QB Blake Decker, WR Aaron Criswell, DB Blake Richmond, DB Peni Vea
The defense ranked last in the Mountain West in yards allowed last season, but there was still obvious improvement under the new staff. That improvement should continue with seven starters returning. The front four should be able to get relatively consistent pressure with Mark Finau, Mike Hughes and Jeremiah Valoaga leading the way. The team’s top sack specialist last year was linebacker Tau Lotulelei. On top of his 3.0 sacks, Lotulelei tallied 11.5 tackles-for-loss and 70 total tackles. Getting pressure on the quarterback will be key this season after the pass rush was virtually non-existent last season. But with the growing experience in the front seven, there should be marked improvement in that department. The secondary was often put in very, very difficult situations because of the lack of a pass rush. Yet, the unit really performed quite well all things considered. Cornerbacks Torry McTyer and Tim Hough are back and they can both turn into great cornerbacks in the Mountain West if they do not have to cover receivers for so long.
The offense was solid last year, ranking fourth in the conference in total offense with 405.1 yards per game. However, quarterback Blake Decker is gone and there is a heated battle to replace him. Despite Kurt Palandech backing up Decker last year, the battle is between redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed and junior college transfer and former Nebraska Cornhusker Johnny Stanton. At 6-2 and 245 pounds, Stanton is a big guy who can also run. With his experience, on paper at least, he looks like the best option. And finding somebody who can throw the ball is important since UNLV has a couple very good receivers in Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys. Boyd is the big play receiver, catching 54 passes for 904 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015. Keys added 43 catches for 515 yards and six scores.
The Bottom Line:
The offense can rely on the running back trio of Keith Whitely, Lexington Thomas and Xzaviar Campbell should the passing game take a massive step back. Whitely rushed for a team high 711 yards on 152 carries and both Thomas and Campbell proved to be explosive backs as well. Still, if UNLV wants to have bowl dreams, the passing game must help balance the offense. If that happens, this is a team that can win six games. They have home contests against Jackson State, Idaho, Colorado State, Wyoming and Nevada. Those are all winnable. So are road trips to Central Michigan, Hawaii and San Jose State. The Rebels do not have the experience or depth quite yet to win all of those games, but they can dream about winning six of the eight until it becomes mathematically impossible.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 193.7 (36th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 311.4 (77, 4)
Total Offense: 405.1 (59, 4)
Scoring Offense: 28.6 (66, 7)
Rushing Defense: 217.5 (110, 9)
Pass Defense: 239.8 (86, 11)
Total Defense: 457.3 (109, 12)
Scoring Defense: 33.7 (100, 9)
Turnover Margin: 0.33 (37, 4)
Sacks: 0.75 (127, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 2.75 (106, 11)


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