UNLV vs. Arkansas State: Get to Know the Red Wolves
The UNLV Rebels face Arkansas State this Saturday, so we talked with Jeremy Harper of Sun Belt Heat to preview Red Wolves football.
Arkansas State will be a tough test for UNLV.
After coasting to wins against UTEP and Prairie View A&M in the past two weeks, the UNLV Rebels close out their non-conference slate by heading east to play the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Arkansas State opened 2018 with an win against FCS Southeastern Missouri State and got predictably hammered against Alabama, but they showed their mettle by rebounding to take down Tulsa last Saturday. They remain a contender in the Sun Belt and make for an intriguing barometer in how far the Rebels have progressed.
Matthew Kenerly: Arkansas State has had an up-and-down September so far, but I’d guess that was expected with Alabama in the mix along with Tulsa and Southeastern Missouri State. How have the Red Wolves stacked up overall to their preseason expectations so far, or how have they not?
Jeremy Harper: So far, the Red Wolves are sticking to the preseason script. Nobody expected a win at Tuscaloosa, and Arkansas State was expected (at least by the fan base) to handle Tulsa. One thing that has not met expectations is the penalties. Coach Blake Anderson made accountability and clean play a focus during the offseason, but the Red Wolves continue to be one of the most penalized teams in college football (33, 128th in the FBS).
MK: The Red Wolves currently rank 4th in defensive line Havoc Rate so far, which could pose a problem for the UNLV ground game. Who’s been the one big-time performer so far in that unit, and why?
JH: Much was made this preseason of defensive end Ronheen Bingham (and rightfully so), but the Red Wolves have seen more interior havoc from a pair of transfer players. Defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon is a Ball State transfer who sat out the 2017 season. At 6’3″ and 300 pounds, we knew he was a physical beast, but we didn’t realize just how much impact he’d have on the line. Defensive lineman Forrest Merrill (6’1″, 325 lbs) has also emerged as a nice surprise with three sacks on the season.
MK: Speaking of ground games, it looks like Arkansas State has a unit that could be as deep as UNLV’s own. How have the Red Wolves deployed Warren Wand and company in non-conference play?
JH: A big difference for Wand in 2018 is that he has a couple bruisers in the rotation to carry the load. Armond Weh-Weh (6’0″, 211) and Marcel Murray (5’11”, 197) have been given even carries, allowing Wand (who’s only 5’5″) to stick more to his skill set, which is to scatter and scramble. The Red Wolves no longer have to rely on Wand to break up a stacked box. And Murray, who’s only a freshman, has been electric.
MK: How much concern do you have, if any, that Justice Hansen’s numbers have dipped some against the two FBS foes so far? How much should UNLV expect to see him utilized as a runner?
JH: Nobody looks good against Alabama, and Tulsa’s weird “stack the backfield” defense altered Hansen’s pass-first game plan. The reaction to Tulsa’s defense was actually comforting to Red Wolves fans, as it proved that the run game could overcome the challenge. But if Hansen has trouble connecting with his receivers this Saturday, it may be time to lightly furrow the brows.
MK: Finally, how do you think this game will play out, and do you have a prediction?
JH: UNLV’s run game is first class, and Armani Rogers’ ability to scramble and make plays is unnerving. But Tulsa’s QB, Luke Skipper, has similar skillsets, and the Red Wolves managed to contain him. I think Arkansas State wins this game they way they generally win games – by simply wearing opponents out. I expect the score to be close at halftime with Arkansas State pulling away from the Rebels in the third quarter.