"They played well at the end of the year," Rich Rodriguez said. "Got their confidence up, and I'm sure we're going to get a pretty good effort from them."
UNLV is similar to Arizona in a few ways heading into the 2014 season. The Rebels have a new quarterback, a new running back, a veteran receiving corps and offensive line, and have a bunch of sophomore linebackers, as well as a couple of transfers looking to make an immediate impact.
Here are five of those players that you should know heading into Friday's game.
1. WR Devante Davis #81
Devante Davis had the most TD receptions among returning FBS players last year with 14, including a 69 yarder he had against Arizona. That was his longest reception of the entire season. He finds himself on all of the major wide receiver award watch lists to start the season after putting up 1,290 yards last season, the second-most in UNLV history. He's currently tenth in program history with 2,186 career receiving yards, and will likely pass Keenan McCardell for ninth against Arizona, as Davis is only three yards shy of the former Jacksonville Jaguars star.
Overall in the receiving corps, UNLV is returning the second-most receptions in the FBS from a year ago (Washington State is No. 1, UTSA is No. 5). There's just a ton of experience there, but Davis is THE guy to look out for. Look for Jonathan McKnight to be on him all night long.
2. QB Blake Decker #5
Decker has won the starting job over Nick Sherry, who you may remember as the guy who lost his job after going 6-of-22 for 111 yards and two picks against Arizona last year. Blake Decker is a JuCo transfer from Scottsdale Community College. The former Fighting Artichoke and Mountain View-Mesa standout "just played the best in camp and separated" said UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck. Decker had 47 passing TDs for the Artichokes last year.
3. C Robert Waterman #79
Waterman will be making his 39th consecutive college start Friday, the same as Arizona's Mickey Baucus. With Waterman in the middle of a somewhat experienced line, traditional pressure from the Wildcat defensive line is unlikely at best. To get pressure on Decker, expect some blitz packages focused on the right side of the line.
4. CB Tajh Hasson #29
Hasson is the Rebels top defensive back. Last year, he was fourth on the team in solo tackles, had a sack, an interception, and eleven passes broken up, the second-most on the team. Kenneth Penny, the corner on the other side, led the team with 18 pass break ups. Either way, the Arizona receivers that line up on the outside will have their hands full with those two guys.
5. DE Josh Shirley #91
Josh Shirley is a Washington transfer, who had 18 sacks in his three years with the Huskies.
"He was one of the better, at least I thought, pass rushers in the Pac-12," coach Rodriguez said.
Although he had 18 career sacks, his defensive production dropped off each of his three years at UW. But this is a UNLV team that doesn't return anyone who had more than two sacks last year, so Shirley's impact will likely be felt in a big way on the Rebels defensive line right away.