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UNLV Rebels vs. Michigan Wolverines Preview and Prediction

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After a sluggish start last week against Oregon State, the Wolverines finally started to resemble a competent offense by rattling off 35 straight points en route to a 35-7 blowout victory over the Beavers. The Michigan defense also stepped up their game, limiting Oregon State to just two yards of total offense after the first quarter.

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For UNLV, the major concern centers around starting quarterback Blake Decker who suffered an injury late last week in the 37-3 loss to UCLA. If Decker is unable to go, the Rebels will be headed into their first-ever trip to the Big House at 0-2 with a quarterback that has not started a collegiate game. Probably not the way head coach Tony Sanchez had it written up before the season.

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UNLV at Michigan​

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -34

Three Things to Watch

1. Keep it Rolling
There is no need to get fancy here. Michigan controlled the match-up in the trenches against Oregon State, punishing the defense up the middle with a rushing attack that racked up over 225 yards. Junior De’Veon Smith established himself as the go-to rusher in the Wolverines backfield, rushing for a career-high 126 yards and three touchdowns in the win. The talent disparity will be far greater against UNLV, so there is absolutely no reason why Michigan should deviate from what worked so well in the second half last week. UNLV ranks in the bottom third in rush defense giving up over 229 yards a game through two games.

2. Uncertainty at QB for UNLV
As of Wednesday night, Rebels starting quarterback Blake Decker is listed as day-to-day with a hip injury, and remains questionable for Saturday. If Decker is unavailable, backup quarterback Kurt Palandech would likely get the nod for his first collegiate start. The sophomore has played in both games this season — primarily as the wildcat quarterback — but has only completed 31 percent of his passes for minimal yardage. True freshman Dalton Sneed could also get a look, but the coaching staff would rather not burn a redshirt possibility this early in the season. With Decker unlikely to be 100 percent even if under center, the Wolverines can scheme towards stopping the run and force UNLV to be one-dimensional on offense.

3. Winning the turnover margin
Despite giving up 37 points, the Rebels defense did force UCLA quarterbacks into three interceptions last week (only one against Josh Rosen). If UNLV is to keep the score respectable, the defense will have to force Michigan into a few turnovers and the Wolverines have been more than willing to provide said turnovers through the first two weeks. Starting quarterback Jake Rudock has already tossed four interceptions after throwing just five all of last season for Iowa. If Rudock continues to be inaccurate with his throws as he has been early on this season, the Rebels will need to take advantage.

Final Analysis

This game is likely to be over midway through the first quarter. UNLV’s slim hopes on springing the upset rely on a healthy Decker connecting on multiple deep shots to stud wide receiver Devonte Boyd. With Decker not at full strength, the Rebels will be forced to run the football against a Michigan defense that is allowing less than three yards a carry through the first two games. That is not a recipe for success. Expect the backups for Michigan to get plenty of reps early in the second half with the Wolverines up big the entire afternoon.

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Prediction: Michigan 41, UNLV 6

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.