Rebels hope to contain Devine, 26th-ranked Mountaineers
The UNLV football team travels to Morgantown, W. Va., this Saturday for its first ever meeting against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Mountaineer Field.
Saturday’s matchup against the Mountaineers will also be the Rebels’ first ever game against a team from the Big East Conference.
West Virginia comes into Saturday’s contest with a 3-1 record. The Mountaineers opened the season with three consecutive wins over Coastal Carolina, Marshall and Maryland, before falling at No. 12 Louisiana State two weeks ago 20-14.
“West Virginia will be the fastest team we’ve seen,” said UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck. “But we’re excited to play there. It’s a loud, boisterous, fun place. It’s a great venue.”
The Mountaineers are led on offense by running back Noel Devine. Devine has rushed for 391 yards and two touchdowns on 87 carries this season. He has added 15 receptions for 106 yards as receiver out of the backfield.
“He’s a really good player,” Hauck said of Devine. “He’s a good back. He’s got great speed and he has the ability to make people look silly in the open field. He has the ability to go the distance every play. He’s special.”
West Virginia’s passing attack is led by quarterback Geno Smith. Smith has completed 65.4 percent of his passes this year for 919 yards and nine touchdowns compared to two interceptions. Smith has compiled a 144.5 passer rating thus far on the season.
West Virginia is just one spot out of the nation’s top 25, sitting 26th in an AP poll with 83 points. The Mountaineers are only 11 points behind No. 25 Air Force.
The UNLV team, which departs Las Vegas on Thursday morning, will make a rare cross-country trip. The Rebels last played in the Eastern time zone on Sept. 5, 2004, at Tennessee. The Rebels have not traveled as far east as Morgantown since playing at Miami in 1972.
UNLV has already played three nationally ranked opponents this season and the four teams that have defeated the Rebels currently boast a combined record of 16-3.
UNLV is coming off a 44-26 home loss to in-state rival Nevada, Reno while the Mountaineers enjoyed a bye week their loss to LSU on Sept. 25.
Rebel senior quarterback Omar Clayton moved into third place on the school’s career list with 5,490 passing yards in last Saturday’s defeat to UNR. Clayton is now 687 yards behind Jon Denton for second place.
Rebel junior cornerback Will Chandler said he hopes to continue his takeaway prowess against the Mountaineers. Chandler, who intercepted UNR’s Colin Kaepernick a week ago, is the national leader in total takeaways with six. He is tied with three others for the Football Bowl Subdivision lead, with four interceptions.
Rebel wide receiver Phillip Payne hopes to build on his career-night of a week ago. Payne caught eight balls for a career-high 170 yards against UNR. It was the fourth time in his career that Payne went over the 100-yard receiving plateau.
The Rebels will likely continue their running-back-by-committee approach against West Virginia. True freshman running back Tim Cornett leads the Rebels with 6.7 yards per carry. Senior running back Channing Trotter leads the team with 153 rushing yards.
The key to the Rebels’ success on Saturday will depend on the team’s ability to stop the high-powered offense of West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are notorious for their strong running attack and UNLV’s defense has struggled to stop the run all season. Expect Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart to rely on a heavy dose of Devine until UNLV’s defense proves they can stop the run.
The game will be produced as part of ESPN Regional’s Big East Network package, which will be picked up and shown live in Southern Nevada on Fox 5. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:35 p.m.