The early season troubles of UNLV’s Armani Rogers and Northwestern’s Hunter Johnson have been well-chronicled. Johnson put up good numbers in a mop-up role at Clemson before transferring. Rogers has produced, but has been inconsistent.
The Rebels’ Charles Williams’ 155.5 yards rushing average is third nationally, and he essentially was the offense in UNLV’s 43-17 loss to Arkansas State on Saturday. Isaiah Bowser rushed for 866 yards and six touchdowns as a Northwestern freshman last season.
Both teams’ receivers have been quiet, but sets are talented. For Northwestern, Kryic McGowan averaged 17.7 yards per catch last season, Bennett Skowronek is closing in on making the school’s top 10 in yardage, and Riley Lees caught two touchdown passes in the Holiday Bowl. UNLV’s combination of Steve Jenkins and Randal Grimes form a strong core.
Arkansas State exposed some weaknesses with the Rebels’ front. Still, right guard Justin Polu is a potential future pro, and the potential is still there for the entire UNLV line. Northwestern isn’t as experienced, but the Wildcats have standouts in left tackle Rashawn Slater and center Jared Thomas.
Joe Gaziano’s 21 career sacks is second among active players nationally, leading a Wildcats line that helped hold Stanford to 3.4 yards per rush. UNLV entered the season hoping for improvement from its line, but the Rebels need a much better performance than they had against Arkansas State, which rushed for 214 yards.
Rayshad Jackson and Javin White have combined for 4½ tackles for loss. Northwestern is strong all the way across, with Blake Gallagher leading the Big Ten Conference last season with 127 tackles, Paddy Fisher leading all active players nationally with 10 career forced fumbles, and Chris Bergin making 10 tackles at Sanford.
The Rebels haven’t eased concerns about their back end, allowing an average of 289.5 yards passing through the first two games. JR Pace led the Wildcats with four interceptions last season, and he was the Holiday Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player.
Two shanked UNLV punts gave the Red Wolves early short fields, but Hayes Hicken usually has been effective. He bounced back in that game, and should continue to do well. Northwestern is better all the way around on special teams, especially in the return games.
Hard to believe the Wildcats aren’t at least peeking ahead to Michigan State next week. UNLV has endured its share of criticism since losing to the Red Wolves, so expect a focused Rebels team with nothing to lose.
■ Bruce Marshall (goldsheet.com): Northwestern 28, UNLV 19 — They’re already talking hockey in Vegas after the ugly loss to Arkansas State as coach Tony Sanchez might be getting close to pulling backup quarterback Kenyon Oblad out of the bullpen as Rogers is becoming more scatter-armed. But there is a technical case for the Rebels as Sanchez is 4-0 against the spread on the road against Power Five foes since 2015, and the Wildcats didn’t cover in all four home games as favorites in 2018. And the one quarterback in Chicagoland who looked worse in opening week than Mitch Trubisky was Northwestern’s Johnson (4.2 rating versus Stanford).