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Breaking down UNLV-Arkansas State

Quarterbacks

UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said he expects Armani Rogers to throw the ball downfield more this game, which is risky for a quarterback whose accuracy is still very much in question and for such a run-dominant team. Arkansas State’s Logan Bonner had a strong debut with 324 yards and four touchdowns against Southern Methodist.

Advantage: Arkansas State

Running backs

Charles Williams showed Rebels fans shouldn’t be concerned about a future without Lexington Thomas. He rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Utah, and the Rebels had 331 yards and seven TDs overall on the ground. Arkansas State’s Marcel Murray rushed for 77 yards against SMU, and last season gained 860.

Advantage: UNLV

Receivers

Sanchez said he believed this position would decide the game. Arkansas State’s Omar Bayless caught four touchdown passes last weekend, and it’s a deep and talented group. There are injury concerns, most notably with 1,000-yard receiver Kirk Merritt (concussion protocol). UNLV’s receivers are capable of doing enough to pick up first downs and create big plays as well.

Advantage: Arkansas State

Offensive line

The Rebels have one of the Mountain West’s top lines, and it showed with a dominant performance against Southern Utah. Red Wolves center Jacob Still was honorable-mention All-Sun Belt Conference last season, but Arkansas State isn’t quite as experienced.

Advantage: UNLV

Defensive line

William Bradley-King, Forrest Merrill and Kevin Thurmon are potential All-Sun Belt players, and the Red Wolves held SMU to 3.3 yards per rush. The Rebels allowed just 46 yards rushing, and they get Gabe McCoy (13½ tackles for loss last season) after he sat out the opener because of an NCAA eligibility issue.

Advantage: Arkansas State

Linebackers

Javin White can be a disruptive force for the Rebels, and Rayshad Jackson had a promising debut with 1½ tackles for loss and half a sack. They help form a strong unit that rotates two across. Arkansas State’s Tajhea Chambers got two hits on the quarterback against SMU.

Advantage: UNLV

Secondary

If Sanchez is correct the receivers will decide the outcome, the case could be made the defensive backs will have just as much say. Both teams have major concerns, with the Red Wolves giving up 360 yards to the Mustangs and UNLV still needing to show there is genuine improvement on the back end.

Advantage: UNLV

Special teams

UNLV’s Hayes Hicken has the edge at punter, but Arkansas State gets the nod at kicker with Blake Grupe and with both return teams. A botched punt return was major blow for the Rebels in last season’s matchup.

Advantage: Arkansas State

Intangibles

Both teams badly need this victory and both are playing for their coaches. In UNLV’s case, it’s for Sanchez to get a sixth season. The Red Wolves are playing for coach Blake Anderson, who remains away from the team after his wife, Wendy, died last month after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

Advantage: Arkansas State

Handicapper’s take

Bruce Marshall (goldsheet.com): Arkansas State 34, UNLV 27 — UNLV might consider petitioning the Big Sky for membership if it could play the likes of Southern Utah every week and become bowl eligible to save Sanchez’s job. Meanwhile, Arkansas State looks like it has found a successor to long-serving quarterback Justice Hansen after Bonner’s big game against SMU. If Bonner is as capable as he looked last week, the emotional Red Wolves are capable of dedicating a win to Anderson.

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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