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Football: Ohio State – UNLV game preview

Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) throws a pass in the first quarter of the 2017 OSU- Army game on Sep. 16. OSU won 38-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

No. 10 Ohio State (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) bounced back after its 31-16 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma, securing a 38-7 victory over Army at home in Week 3. Now hosting their third and final non-conference opponent, the Buckeyes hope to continue their winning ways and maintain momentum when UNLV (1-1) comes to Ohio Stadium Saturday at noon.

Ohio State offense vs. UNLV defense

Facing a UNLV defense that has averaged 416.5 yards allowed per game and gave up 43 points in its season-opening loss to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Howard (1-2), Ohio State will attempt to work out some of its early season kinks in what is expected to be a blowout win.

UNLV has allowed 216 rushing yards per game and 4.45 rush yards per carry, leading to a potentially poor matchup against an Ohio State offense that relies on its run game for the majority of its production (19th in the nation with 243 yards per game). The Rebels surrendered 309 rushing yards in their loss against Howard, though they did limit Idaho to just 123 yards on the ground in Week 2.

The Rebels have been more effective at defending against the pass, limiting opponents to an average of 200.5 yards per game (50th among FBS teams) and have allowed just two passing touchdowns this season.

However, their defense has yet to be thoroughly tested through the air as the only FBS team they’ve faced, Idaho, is 75th in passing offense (217.7 yards per game) and averages 50 yards fewer than Ohio State, which sits at 43rd with 267.7 yards per game. The Rebels’ only other opponent this season was Howard, an FCS team that averages just 187.7 passing yards per game and that ran all over UNLV for 309 rushing yards.

For the Ohio State offense, this game is less about preparing for the UNLV defense as much as it is just focusing on ironing out some issues it has experienced early on this season.

“We can’t necessarily focus on the opponent,” McLaurin said. “This week, we’re focusing on us. We’re focused on building on what we did last week, our horizontal game, taking some vertical shots, some complements, and I feel like that’s what’s going to help us get better when we start getting into Big Ten play.”

Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) throws a pass to junior wide receiver Terry McLaurin (83) in the first quarter of the 2017 OSU- Army game on Sep. 16. OSU won 38-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

The expectations for the Ohio State offense this week should be for it to work on connecting on some longer passes and trying to reach the next step in its progression this season. The Buckeyes made major strides in their offensive production Saturday by putting up 38 points against Army, but this week will be more of a test to see if Ohio State can do what it has to do and distribute its offensive production through the air and on the ground.

And going up against a man-to-man defense — a look Ohio State players and coaches have frequently cited as the most commonly used defense in practice — rather than a zone defense for the first time this season should be an opportunity for the Buckeyes to start to find their rhythm.

“This may be the first week we get a little press, so we see that a lot in practice,” McLaurin said. “We’re going to be ready for that just in case they come in a zero look, no deep, we practice that a lot in practice. So we’re just being accountable for everything, trying to build on what we already did and just be ready for our shots so we can take them.”

Ohio State defense vs. UNLV offense

If UNLV is going to find any success on the offensive side of the ball, it will come on the ground. The Rebels rank fourth among FBS teams with an average of 350.5 rushing yards per game and have scored seven of their nine offensive touchdowns on the ground. The team averages 7.3 yards per carry.

Ohio State junior linebacker Jerome Baker (17) sacks Army senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw during the second quarter of the 2017 OSU- Army game on Sep. 16. OSU won 38-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

UNLV’s key offensive threat has been running back Lexington Thomas. The junior from Houston has gained 341 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns on 38 attempts, averaging nine yards per carry. He has not been a threat in the passing game, however, serving almost exclusively as a running option.

Through the air, the Rebels have been substantially less impressive. They average 206.5 passing yards per game, with only two touchdowns coming through the air. Redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers has completed 21-of-35 passes, but has been more of a threat on the ground, with 25 rushes for 168 yards.

Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said he is anticipating the Rebels put up points.

“They have a very talented quarterback, they have a receiver who is really a good player, and they have a tailback who is small, but man is he electric. So they have weapons,” Schiano said.

But while Rogers will provide Ohio State with a different look, there is little to indicate he will have much success against the Buckeyes. Rogers’ combination of inexperience and lack of success versus two teams with far less talent on the defensive side of the ball indicate Rogers could struggle to put up many points against Ohio State.

Predictions:

Edward Sutelan: Ohio State wins 54-3

Colin Hass-Hill: Ohio State wins 46-0

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