The Big Ten meets the Mountain West when the Northwestern Wildcats (0-1) host the UNLV Rebels (1-1) this weekend. It'll be only the third all-time meeting between these two programs. This will be the home opener for Northwestern, while UNLV hits the road for the first time in 2019. The Wildcats had a bye week last week after being dominated on both sides of the ball at Stanford two weeks ago. UNLV, on the other hand, split its first two home games with a 56-23 win over FCS foe Southern Utah in their opener two weeks ago but fell hard against Arkansas State (43-17) last week.
NU looks to hit the reset button in order to get its first win of the season, while UNLV looks to get back into the win column. This nationally televised matchup could set the tone for the rest of the season for both teams.
UNLV at Northwestern
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Northwestern -18.5
When Northwestern Has the Ball
All eyes will be on the Wildcats offense this Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Hunter Johnson is now the starting quarterback after TJ Green sustained a season-ending foot injury against Stanford. Before the injury, the two were rotating under center. But now it's up to the Clemson transfer to ignite an offense that averaged just 4.3 yards per pass and 2.8 yards per run and totaled just 210 total yards (scored just one touchdown) against the Cardinal.
Expect the Wildcats to run the ball as much as possible against a Rebels defense that's already allowed 260 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Northwestern will be without Isaiah Bowser, who left the opener against Stanford with a knee injury, and will instead rely on redshirt freshman Drake Anderson (5 rushing yards against Stanford), senior John Moten IV (scored NU's only touchdown), and junior Jesse Brown (29 yards from scrimmage against SU) in the backfield. UNLV has also struggled in pass defense (a combined 509 yards and four scores), so NU will try to use that to its advantage as well. But UNLV's defense has made an impact at times, as evidenced by the four sacks, 13 tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery that they've collected.
When UNLV Has the Ball
The offense employed by head coach Tony Sanchez contains both pro-style and spread elements. And so far, the Rebels have had some success, scoring 73 total points in two games. The Rebels are using a dual-quarterback system of their own, as junior Armani Rogers and freshman Kenyon Oblad have accounted for 315 passing yards, 118 rushing yards, and four total touchdowns. Junior running back Charles Williams leads the ground attack, posting 311 yards and four touchdowns on just 34 carries, an average of 9.1 yards per attempt.
The Rebels are hoping to exploit a Wildcats defense that allowed Stanford to run 73 total plays for 365 yards of offense. Missed tackles and a lack of a pass rush contributed to their performance in the Bay Area, and UNLV will look to take advantage of that.
The Wildcats have never lost to UNLV (2-0 all-time), and Pat Fitzgerald is unbeaten against the Mountain West Conference as NU's head coach (also 2-0). The Rebels have lost their last two games against Big Ten opposition (Ohio State in 2017, Michigan in '15) by a combined 54 points. In fact, the Rebels are 1-8 against the Big Ten since 2003. The Wildcats haven't lost to a Mountain West team since that same year (Air Force).
Northwestern has gone 5-3 in their last eight home openers and has outscored those opponents 203-161. The Rebels give the Wildcats a scare, but Northwestern hangs on for a slim victory.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, UNLV 24
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.