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Ohio State vs. UNLV: Game preview, prediction, and 6 things to know

The Buckeyes have one last non-conference game left before they jump back into Big Ten play

NCAA Football: Wyoming at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Following their loss to Oklahoma, Ohio State started to put the pieces back together last week, beating Army 38-7. In the grand scheme of things, the win doesn’t mean too much for Ohio State, aside from helping the Buckeyes restore some confidence as they get close to jumping back into Big Ten play.

Now Ohio State will take on UNLV for the first time in school history. Much like last week, the Buckeyes shouldn’t face too tough of a test from the Rebels, as evidenced by Ohio State being installed as a 40-point favorite for Saturday afternoon’s game. While this is the first matchup between Ohio State and UNLV, this isn’t the first time Ohio State has played a current member of the Mountain West Conference, with the last game against a MWC foe coming in 2015, when Ohio State shutout Hawaii 38-0 in Columbus.

Even with last week’s convincing win over Army, Ohio State still dropped a couple spots in the AP Top 25 poll. Despite falling to 10th in the poll, this marks the 42nd straight week in which Ohio State has been ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll. As long as Ohio state doesn’t struggle mightily against UNLV, they have an excellent shot at extending the streak to 43 weeks.

Saturday’s game against UNLV will mark the end of Ohio State’s non-conference schedule, with the Buckeyes traveling to Rutgers next Saturday to play their second conference game of the season. While there still are issues on both sides of the football for the Buckeyes, Ohio State has a friendly schedule which should allow them to iron those problems out before a showdown at the end of next month with Penn State in Columbus.

UNLV had quite a dubious start to the season, becoming the biggest favorite to lose in college football history, falling at home as a 45-point favorite to Howard. At least Tony Sanchez and the Rebels were able to put the loss behind them quickly, beating Idaho 44-16, which gave UNLV their first win on the road against a non-conference opponent since 2008.

Statistically UNLV has one of the better offenses in the country, but the Rebels haven’t had to face an opponent anywhere close to Ohio State’s caliber so far this season. UNLV is averaging 557 yards per game so far this year, which ranks eighth among FBS schools.

UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez does have some familiarity with a couple Ohio State players, but those Buckeyes aren’t likely to see the field on Saturday. After the 2014 season Robbins was hired as UNLV’s head coach after spending the previous six seasons as head coach at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Quarterback Tate Martell and defensive lineman Haskell Garrett both were a part of Bishop Gorman’s 2014 team, and currently are freshman with the Buckeyes. Even though the two won’t see the field on Saturday, at least they’ll probably get a chance to see a familiar face after the game.

Ohio State’s biggest advantages

Steady Dobbins diet. J.K. Dobbins garnered a lot of hype when he arrived at Ohio State, but after Mike Weber rushed for 1,000 yards last year as a redshirt freshman, many Buckeye fans weren’t expecting Dobbins to make such a big impact so early in Columbus. Last week Dobbins rushed for 172 yards on just 13 carries, and for the second time was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

Through three games, Dobbins has rushed for 425 yards, which puts him just behind the 471 yards Maurice Clarett rushed for in his first three games for the best rushing start by a freshman in school history. Dobbins should be able to pad his stats even more this week against a UNLV defense that is allowing 213 yards per game on the ground, and gave up 309 yards rushing to Howard.

The Ohio State true freshman will likely get his work in against the Running Rebels, more important for the Buckeyes this week on the ground could be trying to get Weber more carries. If the Ohio State offense wants to succeed the rest of the season, they’ll need both Dobbins and Weber at the top of their game. After getting 182 carries as a true freshman last year, Weber has only seen seven carries in the two games he has been active for this season. When combining the power of Weber in the running game with the elusiveness and speed of Dobbins, Ohio State’s offense becomes even tougher to slow down than it has been at times this year.

Moving up the ranks. J.T. Barrett has already gotten plenty of criticism this year for his play, especially during the Oklahoma game, but he is working his way through the Big Ten and Ohio State record books. Last week Barrett’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Austin Mack in the fourth quarter broke Drew Brees’ Big Ten record of 106 total touchdowns responsible for.

Now Barrett has a chance to move up to second among Ohio State quarterbacks in career passing yards. Barrett is currently 95 passing yards from moving ahead of Bobby Hoying, who threw for 7,232 yards during his Ohio State career. It shouldn’t be very long after until Barrett moving into the top spot on Ohio State’s all-time passing list, as Art Schlichter threw for 7,547 yards during his career.

Barrett should be able to load the stat sheet this week against UNLV. Last week Barrett and the Ohio State offense found success with more run-pass-option plays. Earlier in the year the Buckeyes were trying to force the football deep, where last week short passing helped the Buckeyes to sustain some drives. Utilizing the run-pass-option can also help Ohio State to create some tempo, which will keep defenses on their heels. Saturday’s game against UNLV should allow for Barrett and the rest of the offense to become a little more comfortable with the shift in offensive philosophy.

Bye, bye triple-option. After having to deal with Army’s triple-option attack last week, Ohio State has to be elated that they are playing a team with a normal offense. UNLV’s spread offense is at least something Ohio State sees on a more regular basis. Now the Buckeyes just have to hope they don’t have a delay on the field in reverting away from trying to defend the triple-option. The last time Ohio State played a triple-option offense, they struggled the next time out and ended up losing to Virginia Tech.

Not only did Ohio State’s defensive line not get the benefit of rushing the quarterback last week, they had to endure the cut blocks that come with trying to defend a triple-option team. Defensive ends Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, and the rest of the Ohio State defensive line have to be itching to tee off on a quarterback.

Sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa has already stated that he thinks Ohio State is going to shutout UNLV this week. While that might be asking a little much since UNLV’s offense isn’t chopped liver, it wouldn’t be a surprise for it to happen either. One way for the defense to gain some more confidence for the secondary is to create a lot of heat on the quarterback, forcing some bad throws. At least Ohio State will be trying to backup the talk from Bosa, which should create plenty of big plays on defense.

UNLV’s biggest advantages

Back to the “Runnin’” Rebels. It’s hard to call UNLV’s rushing offense an advantage when it has to get past Ohio State’s front-seven on defense, but the Rebels at least pose a threat to break some big runs. UNLV is currently fourth in the country in rushing, averaging 350 yards per game on the ground.

Tony Sanchez’s team will bring a different kind of running attack to Saturday’s game than Army did last week, which could actually help the Rebels. It usually takes teams a little time to adjust back to their regular defense after having to face a triple-option team. In 2014 Ohio State opened the season with Navy, and after defeating the Midshipmen, the Buckeyes couldn’t stop Virginia Tech in their next game.

UNLV going to upset Ohio State like Virginia Tech did in 2014, but running back Lexington Thomas at least has the ability to make some plays on the ground for UNLV. After rushing for 642 yards and eight touchdowns last year, the junior from Houston already has 341 yards and five rushing touchdowns this year, with 190 yards and three of those touchdowns coming in the win over Idaho.

Thomas isn’t the only one who can make things happen on the ground for UNLV, as redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers has the ability to make plays with his legs when needed. Rogers has rushed for at least 80 yards in each of UNLV’s first two games this year. Ohio State’s defense can’t afford to let Thomas or Rogers find any holes on the ground or this game could be closer than many of the experts are expecting it to be.

Air travel. It hasn’t been too hard to figure out how to move the football on Ohio State so far this year. Through the air. Prior to last week’s game against Army, Ohio State was ranked dead last among FBS in pass defense. Luckily for the Buckeyes they got a little bit of a breather to rest their much maligned secondary, as Army’s triple-option offense only saw them throw the football eight times for 19 yards. The passing output by the Black Knights was the lowest for an opponent against the Buckeyes since the 1990 Holiday Bowl, where Air Force only threw for 11 yards.

Heading into this week’s contest against UNLV, Ohio State has moved up to 102nd amongst FBS teams against the pass, but they’ll have a little bit more work to do against the Rebels than they did against Army. Even though UNLV does prefer to run the football, they can mix in the pass to keep defenses on their toes. Through two games, Armani Rogers has thrown for 413 and two touchdowns,

Ohio State can’t sleep on senior Devonte Boyd, who is one of the best wide receivers in UNLV history. The Nevada native has recorded at least 700 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons with the Rebels, and has hauled in six catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns this year. In both of UNLV’s games this year Boyd has gone for accounted for over 100 yards receiving, giving him 13 games in his career where he has surpassed the 100-yard mark.

Nothing to lose. Nobody is expecting UNLV to walk out of Ohio Stadium with a win, or really for the game to even be close, so what do the Rebels have to lose? UNLV already experienced what will probably be their most embarrassing moment of the season, when they lost as such a huge favorite to Howard to open up the season. Now the Rebels come to Columbus as nearly six touchdown underdogs, so it isn’t like there will be any pressure on Tony Sanchez’s team.

With UNLV being able to play loose with no pressure on them, maybe they force the Buckeyes into some mistakes which help keep the score closer then some are expecting. At least the trip to Columbus to play the Buckeyes will give UNLV some experience against one of the nation’s top ranked teams before the Rebels start play in the Mountain West Conference.

With some of the youth on this UNLV team, as long as they don’t suffer any major injuries, even a loss to Ohio State can have some positives. UNLV hasn’t made a bowl game since 2013, and Tony Sanchez is just 8-18 in his third season with the Rebels. If UNLV can play the Buckeyes to a closer result than many are expecting, it could be the spark the Rebels need to play the rest of their nine games of the regular season with confidence, and possibly put themselves in contention to return to a bowl game.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 49, UNLV 14

Win Probability: Ohio State 98.1%

If Saturday’s game against UNLV isn’t an easy win for the Buckeyes, then something probably went terribly wrong. Even though the Rebels do have some pieces of offense, it can’t be forgotten they still lost to Howard to open up the season as a 45-point favorite. It still remains to be seen if former high school football coach Tony Sanchez is over his head at UNLV, but he is definitely in over his head against Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

How to watch, stream, listen to UNLV v. Ohio State:

Game time: Saturday September 23rd, 12:00 PM ET

TV: Big Ten Network

Streaming: BTN2Go

Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM