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UNLV’s spread offense will test Ohio State’s defense

The Rebels possess talent at the skill positions.

NCAA Football: UNLV at San Jose State Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a physical battle against Army’s triple-option offense, the Ohio State defense can get back to their base defense this week versus UNLV.

UNLV deploys a run-first spread offense -- with the ability to stretch the defense vertically — which allowed the Buckeyes to finally breakdown the Oklahoma film. The coaching staff wanted the defense to focus on stopping the triple-option last week, rather than breaking down their defensive performance against Oklahoma’s spread.

“[The defense] spent all day yesterday on Oklahoma,” Urban Meyer said. “Graded the effort and rewarded the effort in here with me and the team, and they went to work. And they’ll continue to work on, because now we’ll see another spread offense.”

Although UNLV is best known for losing Week 1 to FCS Howard, the biggest point-spread upset in college football history, don’t blame the Rebels’ offense. Through two games, the offense has averaged 42 points per game, good for 22nd in the nation. They’re led by an electrifying quarterback-running back combo and have an NFL-caliber wideout who will likely go down as the school’s all-time leading receiver.

From a running perspective, they’re led by junior Lexington Thomas, who stands at only 5’9, 170 lbs, but is blazing fast. Through two games, Thomas has racked up 341 yards and 5 touchdowns on only 38 carries — a 8.97 yard per carry average. Because they are a run-first spread team, their redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rodgers is second on the team with 168 yards on the ground, averaging 6.72 yards a pop.

Thomas has a lightning-quick first step and possesses pretty good vision. Once he gets to the second level, he utilizes his quickness and agility to make the next guy miss, then it’s off to the races.

Here’s a second clip of Thomas showing off his one-cut ability to find the hole, then he puts the poor safety in a blender before moving the chains. His quickness really pops when you watch him run the ball.

On the perimeter, the Rebels really only have one legitimate wideout in Devonte Boyd. With UNLV starting a redshirt freshman this season, Boyd’s targets are down but he’s still putting up numbers. On only six receptions, Boyd has racked up 208 yards and 2 touchdowns — highlighted by a 94-yard touchdown. I wouldn’t say he has elite NFL speed, but he does the little things to create separation downfield and possesses consistent hands.

Below is an example of his detailed route-running, which helped him get off the line of scrimmage against man-coverage. After getting into his route, he gave a last second move to the defensive back to make him pause his feet, giving Boyd even more space to make the catch. it’s the little things that make him such a productive receiver.

With Ohio State being able to go back to their base Cover 4 against UNLV, they’ll once again be tested. Ohio State’s defensive line should limit the run game, but a player like Lexington Thomas only needs a mental lapse from a linebacker to gain a chunk of yardage. On the perimeter, Boyd will test the secondary, but doesn’t necessarily bring the big body that the Ohio State corners have had issues with to start the 2017 season. Ohio State’s offense will score at will against the Rebels’ defense, but Greg Schiano’s defense could have their hands full if this turns into a track meet. The corners haven’t been tested since Baker Mayfield toyed with them, and it’ll be interesting to see if the secondary comes out slow after seeing the triple-option over-and-over again.