UNLV Non-Conference Preview: Prairie View A&M Panthers
A must win game three weeks into the college football season? Yes, that’s reality for the UNLV Rebels when they host the Prairie View A&M Panthers in Las Vegas.
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If the UNLV Rebels hope to reach bowl eligibility this season, a win against the Prairie View A&M Panthers is a must.
UNLV fans, when the Rebels take the field against the Prairie View A&M Panthers on September 15th at Sam Boyd Stadium it is unquestionably a must win.
I understand those are strong words for the third game of the season, but they are delivered without hyperbole. Anything short of bowl eligibility in 2018 will be absorbed as a failure by fans in Las Vegas. Head coach Tony Sanchez has increased the Rebel win total in each season he’s been at the helm. That means six victories this year, and anything less is unacceptable.
The UNLV non-conference schedule is bookended by road matchups at USC and Arkansas State. The Red Wolves have played in a bowl game in seven straight seasons. A winning bet on the Rebs to upset the Trojans could buy you a pretty nice condo in Summerlin. So we’ll call both of those losses.
In between those road dates, UNLV gets PVA&M and UTEP. A very manageable Mountain West Conference slate that does not include Boise State or Wyoming follows. So without engaging in a Florida State-esque discussion involving football scholarship funds, let’s say starting 2-2 is just fine. Starting 1-3 is not.
The game against the Panthers is the second against a Southwestern Athletic Conference opponent in three seasons for the Rebels. In 2016 UNLV destroyed Jackson State 63-13. Things haven’t always gone well for the Scarlet and Gray against FCS opponents, though. Or didn’t you hear about the biggest upset in college football history?
Once upon a time, PV A&M made national news for compiling an unprecedented 80-game losing streak. Today they are a team that’s won 22 games in three years. If last year’s clunker against Howard is any indication, this game is one that UNLV shouldn’t take lightly. Here’s what the Panthers look like in 2018.
First-year head coach Eric Dooley has plenty to work with as he takes over a team picked to finish middle of the pack in the SWAC.
Leading the aerial attack for the Panthers will be redshirt sophomore quarterback Neiko Hollins. The 6-foot-4, 235 pound Fresno, Texas product was used sparingly for the first five games of last season, until he got regular work beginning with the October 14th matchup at Alcorn. He’d finish the season with 1853 passing yards and 21 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Despite the late start, he’d finish with the fourth most passing yards in the conference. He was the second-most efficient passer in the SWAC in 2017.
Dawonya Tucker will get the bulk of the work in the ground game for the Panthers. He’ll occupy the spot vacated by Sta’Fon McCray. Last year Tucker was second on the team in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. Last September he rushed for a career-high 95 yards and three touchdowns against Sam Houston State.
While the departure of KhaDarel Hodge, Joshua Simmons, and Darius Floyd certainly stings, the PVA&M receiving corps is not without firepower. Markcus Hardy should emerge as the primary deep threat for the Panthers. Last year he was fourth on the team with 280 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 10 games. He’ll get help from tight end Zarrian Holcombe. Holcombe played seven games for Illinois in 2016 before he was dismissed for disciplinary issues. Last year he appeared in nine games for PVA&M. He’s a preseason All-SWAC Second Team selection.
Corbin Finlayson and Roderick Smith anchor the Panthers’ offensive line. Finlayson was named to the All-SWAC First Team and has appeared in 21 games the last two seasons. Smith was named to the All-SWAC Second Team and is a versatile talent capable of occupying different spots on the PVA&M line.
Defensive back Ju’Anthony Parker is arguably the top talent on the Prairie View roster. Last season he was second in the conference in interceptions with four, and returned a pair of those for touchdowns. He’ll need help from DB Reggie Stubblefield if the Panthers are to improve upon a defensive unit that yielded 224 yards per contest through the air last season. Remember the name Will Skinner as well.
Anthony Stubbs is the name to know among PVA&M linebackers. He was second on the team in tackles in 2017 and led the Panthers with 5 ½ sacks. A season after logging 23 tackles in 10 games, Jiare Hicks should also see an expanded role.
Last season PVA&M held opponents to 111 rushing yards per contest. That’s very good. They have some holes to fill on the defensive line, though, and a smart man would put plenty of dough on UNLV running back Lexington Thomas logging another monster game in his spectacular Rebels career.
Kicker Zack Elder connected on a 53-yard field goal during the Prairie View spring game. If this game comes down to a field goal, win or lose, Rebels fans can go ahead and get plenty worried about the upcoming conference season.
There’s been plenty of turnover in the kick return game for the Panthers. Last season PVA&M led the SWAC in kick return average and was second in the league in punt return average. FCS opponent or not, UNLV enters 2018 with a defense that is suspect at best. Probably a good idea to avoid the short field, particularly against an opponent they best in most facets of the game.
It’s not going to be 63-13 against Jackson State two years ago, but if I were going to say this one was even going to be close, that would be a pretty strong message that I don’t have a lot of faith in the Rebels in 2018. I’m sticking with this being the season that UNLV returns to play in the postseason. And that means they should handle the Panthers with ease.