A look at who has the advantage at each position when the Rebels travel to Hawaii to take on the Rainbow Warriors at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Hawaii started Dru Brown the past two games, and the sophomore rewarded the team by completing 76 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions in wins over San Jose State and UNR. Redshirt freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed has completed only 11 of 29 passes for UNLV.
The Rainbow Warriors have an exciting trio of runners in Diocemy Saint Juste, Steven Lakalaka and Paul Harris. All three are averaging more than 5 yards per carry and have a combined 984 rushing yards. The Rebels’ duo of Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas have a combined 833 yards and nine touchdowns.
Four Hawaii pass catchers have more than 100 receiving yards this season, with Marcus Kemp leading with 510 yards and four touchdowns. Kemp, a senior, recently was added to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Only two UNLV pass catchers have more than 100 receiving yards.
The Rebels continue to maul opponents up front, ranking 17th nationally with an average of 246 rushing yards per game. Sneed was sacked twice in UNLV’s loss at San Diego State last week, but the team is still tied for the eighth fewest sacks allowed in the nation with four.
Hawaii has one of the worst rushing defenses in the FBS, ranking 116th by allowing 236 yards on the ground per game. The Rainbow Warriors have a relatively strong pass rush, compiling 14 sacks, but UNLV has been less leaky up front.
The Rebels’ top two linebackers, Tau Lotulelei and Ryan McAleenan, have combined for 100 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss and 2½ sacks. Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai and Russell Williams Jr. have made a few more plays in the backfield, but Lotulelei and McAleenan have been more consistent.
Both teams allow about 250 passing yards per game, but UNLV’s coverage has appeared stickier through six games. The Rebels have defended 32 passes, and the Rainbow Warriors have 19 passes defensed. UNLV has allowed more big plays through the passing game.
Hawaii kicker Rigoberto Sanchez was selected Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday and is 5-for-5 on field goals. The Rainbow Warriors’ punt coverage is worse than the Rebels’, but their kickoff return coverage is better.
Hawaii is 2-0 at home, and UNLV is 0-3 on the road. The Rebels have lost their last three visits against the Rainbow Warriors by an average score of 48-22. The time difference might affect UNLV late in the game, as it will be close to midnight Pacific Time when the fourth quarter begins.
BRUCE MARSHALL (goldsheet.com): Hawaii 31, UNLV 17 — The ghosts of Elvis, Don Ho and Jack Lord seem to have embraced first-year Hawaii coach and alumnus Nick Rolovich, the newest star in Honolulu after two impressive wins to open the Mountain West slate. The Warriors have an answer at quarterback in sophomore Dru Brown (68 percent completions) and balance with slashing runners Diocemy Saint Juste and Steven Lakalaka. UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed’s shortcomings were exposed last week at San Diego State (2 of 12 passing), and coach Tony Sanchez said backup Kurt Palandech will get snaps at Aloha Stadium. The host team has won the past seven in the series straight up.
Ben Gotz is a sports reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenSGotz.
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