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5 burning questions about Saturday’s UNLV-Central Michigan game

Five burning questions as UNLV’s football team prepares to face Central Michigan at noon PDT on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Michigan:

Can the Rebels pressure Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush?

UNLV couldn’t generate a pass rush at all in the first half against UCLA as quarterback Josh Rosen guided the Bruins to touchdowns on their first four drives. The Rebels (1-1), who have one sack in each of their first two games, face another capable quarterback this week in Rush, a four-year starter who leads all active Football Bowl Subdivision players in career passing yards, with 9,952. He threw for 361 yards and four TDs in Central Michigan’s thrilling 30-27 upset win over then-No. 22 Oklahoma State on Saturday that was capped by a 51-yard Hail Mary-and-lateral touchdown pass with no time remaining.

Can the Rebels run the ball?

Lexington Thomas has rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns in two games to power a UNLV running attack ranked 35th in the nation at 227.5 yards per game. However, the Chippewas (2-0) excel at stopping the run. They’re fourth in the nation in rush defense, allowing an average of only 47 ypg, after finishing last season ranked 29th in the country in that category (139.2 ypg).

Will the Rebels tackle better?

One constant in UNLV’s season-opening 63-13 win over Jackson State and 42-21 loss to UCLA has been the Rebels’ failure to wrap up runners. Unless UNLV improves its tackling and limits yards after contact, it’ll have to win shootouts this season.

Will there be a fantastic finish?

Saturday’s upset win over Oklahoma State was only the latest wild comeback by Central Michigan, which almost erased a 35-point deficit in a 49-48 loss to Western Kentucky in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl. The Chippewas cut a 49-14 deficit to 49-42 with one second left, when they scored a 75-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary and three laterals before coming up short on the ensuing two-point conversion. Also, UNLV scored 31 unanswered points to erase a 21-0 deficit to Central Michigan in a 31-21 win in 2013 at Sam Boyd Stadium that matched the biggest comeback in school history.

Will UNLV win?

The Rebels have never won a game played in the Eastern Time Zone (0-10) and have lost 17 consecutive nonconference road games. UNLV notched its last nonconference road win on Aug. 30, 2007, when it beat Utah State 23-16. The Rebels have had the lead or been within a touchdown in 11 of 14 games under Tony Sanchez and should take the Chippewas to the wire here as 13-point underdogs.

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