UNLV Rebels at Northwestern Wildcats, A Mid-September Spectacular
The 2019 UNLV Rebels non-conference schedule features the defending Big Ten West Champion Northwestern Wildcats.
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Can the Rebels hang with the Wildcats when they travel to Evanston in September?
The 2019 UNLV Rebels football season is right around the corner, super fans. Get excited.
The first of two Power Five matchups on the UNLV non-conference slate will bring our beloved Rebels to Big Ten country. The opponent is a Northwestern Wildcats team projected by many to finish middle of the pack in the Big Ten West.
But don’t sleep on the Wildcats. In his 13th season at the helm Pat Fitzgerald’s squad racked up nine wins en route to a division title. And they could be just as good in 2019. The defense is deep, the offense is experienced, and the guy under center is loaded with potential. Here’s what UNLV will be up against on September 14th.
We’re starting with defense because it’s the strength of the Wildcats and this is the most intriguing matchup you’ll see on Saturday. Northwestern returns the top two leading tacklers in the Big Ten from 2018, Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher. That’s bad news for a UNLV squad that will rely heavily on its rushing attack all season long. The Rebel offensive line is impressive, and they’ll have to be against NW if UNLV is going to keep this one close.
Northwestern is deep at defensive end. Joe Gaziano could be an All-Big Ten talent by the time the season is through. He returns after a season in which he led the Wildcats with 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Samdup Miller features on the other side. The junior already has 27 career games under his belt. Bad news for a UNLV team that needs quarterback Armani Rogers to use his legs early and often.
The Northwestern secondary is far from spectacular, but then the same can be said for Rogers’ arm. Last season the Wildcats yielded 261.2 yards through the air, good for 109th in the country. Trae Williams, Travis Whillock, and JR Pace return from that team. They’ll be joined by Greg Newsome II, an intriguing prospect at corner. UNLV has a veteran group of receivers that can challenge this group. Whether or not Rogers can get the ball to them is up for debate.
UNLV is going to get an early look at who may very well end up being the greatest quarterback to ever pull on a Northwestern jersey. Hunter Johnson has arrived in Evanston, by way of Clemson, and the expectations are sky-high.
In 2017 Johnson saw action in five games with the Tigers completed 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards. Two touchdowns and a pick completes the story of his Clemson career. He’s extraordinarily talented. He also hasn’t played competitive football in nearly two years. The UNLV game will be his second of the season. For the Rebs’ sake hopefully it takes more than eight quarters to shake off that rust.
He’ll have a couple of veteran receivers to throw to. Kyric McGowan and Bennett Skowronek are back for the Wildcats. Skowronek has racked up 90 catches across the last two seasons. He’ll play on the outside and will be joined by Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. McGowan will play inside with Riley Lees.
The most certain commodity that Northwestern has on the offensive side of the ball is running back Isaiah Bowser. As a freshman Bowser dazzled last season, totaling 866 yards and six touchdowns. To put it gently, the UNLV front seven is not great. If Bowser starts this season the way he ended the last, the Rebels are in for a long day.
This game isn’t coming down to special teams.
But if you need a special teams name to watch when the Wildcats and Rebels take the field, make it McGowan on kick return duties.
It’s too early for scores, and odds, and lines and such. Everyone knows what the expectation is for the Rebels in 2019. It’s to get to a bowl game. That’s a reasonable expectation in year four of the Tony Sanchez era. The Rebs don’t need this win to achieve that goal, and I don’t think they win this game. Level-headed fans will mostly be looking for a spirited effort from the Scarlet and Gray.