5 questions heading into Saturday’s UNLV-UNR game

Five burning questions as UNLV’s football team (4-7, 3-4) prepares to play UNR (4-7, 2-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium:

1. Can the Rebels exploit the Wolf Pack’s porous run defense?

UNLV is 0-5 when rushing for less than 200 yards this season and 4-2 when they run for more than 200. The Rebels, who feature the nation’s No. 15 rushing attack (246.9 ypg), could be in for a big day on the ground against UNR, which ranks last in the country in rushing defense, allowing 308.1 ypg.

2. Will UNLV be able to throw the ball?

The Rebels, who’ve lost four starting receivers to season-ending injuries and are on their third quarterback in Kurt Palandech, feature one of the nation’s weakest passing attacks, ranking 112th with 166.7 ypg. The Wolf Pack counter with the country’s fifth-ranked passing defense, allowing only 161.8 ypg despite being tied for 121st in sacks with 12.

3. Can the Rebels corral running back James Butler?

The junior rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 38-37 comeback win over Utah State, eclipsing 3,000 career yards in his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season and 15th of his career. Butler has rushed for a team-leading 1,140 yards and nine touchdowns this season, is second on the team in receptions (32) and receiving yards (333) and has two touchdown catches.

4. Will Lexington Thomas play?

The sophomore running back was expected to play in each of the last two games but he missed both with a sprained ankle suffered Oct. 29 at San Jose State. Thomas, second on the team in rushing with 632 yards and tied with David Greene for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with eight, also is expected to play against UNR. “He’s not 100 percent but he looks good enough,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “He needs to go. It’s been three weeks.”

5. Who will step up for the Rebels?

UNLV senior linebacker Ryan McAleenan made the play of the game in last season’s Battle for the Fremont Cannon, returning an interception 52 yards for a touchdown to put the Rebels ahead 20-10 with 8:27 to play in their 23-17 victory in Reno. Palandech also stepped up late in the first half after starting quarterback Blake Decker left the game in the final minute with an injury. On the second play following the injury, Palandech completed a 25-yard pass to Kendal Keys. On the next play, he ran 12 yards for a touchdown to extend UNLV’s lead to 13-0 with 30 seconds left in the half.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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