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Rebels careful not to overlook Southern Utah offense

Southern Utah figured to be UNLV’s most beatable opponent when its schedule came out, and it might be one the Rebels handle with ease.

But to assume victory today could prove a mistake because the Thunderbirds possess the kind of offense that often gives UNLV problems.

Southern Utah is ranked 23rd in The Sports Network’s Football Championship Subdivision poll, and the Thunderbirds defeated then-No. 12 Sacramento State 35-14 two weeks ago — the same Hornets team that opened the season with an upset victory at Oregon State.

The Thunderbirds also nearly won at Wyoming last year, falling 28-20 in the opener.

“We know a lot about them and will be tested this weekend, and we better come to play again,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said.

UNLV (1-2) needs to beat Southern Utah (2-1) when they meet at 6 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium to build on the Rebels’ surprising 40-20 victory over Hawaii on Sept. 17.

A Rebels victory not only would put their record at .500, the team would head into a bye with two weeks to prepare for UNR, which appears vulnerable for the first time in several seasons. The Wolf Pack own a six-game winning streak over the Rebels, and all but two were blowouts.

A loss tonight would be a major setback for UNLV because even though Southern Utah is a quality team, it’s still a lower-level squad that a major college school should beat. The gains made against Hawaii would be wiped out in three hours, and the season would be in danger of slipping away.

To beat the Thunderbirds, UNLV can’t let quarterback Brad Sorensen continue his hot play. Sorensen, who began his college career at Brigham Young, has completed 73 percent of his passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns.

Sorensen hasn’t thrown an interception since opening the season with three against South Dakota State. Even in that game, he passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s a great pocket passer,” Rebels safety Daniel Harper said. “The guy has a lot of talent. I know he likes to take shots down the field. He has a gun on him, and he seems to be a pretty smart guy.”

UNLV faced a similar situation against Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz last week, but used a strong pass rush and tight coverage to keep the Warriors from punishing a Rebels defense that had allowed 110 points and 1,109 yards during two blowout defeats to open the season.

Moniz, who passed for 233 yards and two touchdowns, was sacked three times and unable to rally the Warriors out of an early 17-0 hole.

“It’s a confidence builder,” linebacker Nate Carter said. “It shows what we’re capable of when we do things right as a defense. It puts us back into the mindset we have to go back to work and make sure we’re consistent.”

Southern Utah is coming off a 6-5 season and Great West Conference championship, and the Thunderbirds will enter the Big Sky Conference next year.

It’s a program that appears to be on the rise, and possibly not the easy victory UNLV expected when it scheduled the game.

“They’re a good team,” quarterback Caleb Herring said. “We’re going to have to prepare for them like we would any other team, just like last week getting into the film room. The better we know them, the better we’ll be able to play.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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