Week 1 Preview: Minnesota at UNLV

Here’s a quick look at Thursday night’s season opener in Las Vegas as Minnesota travels to play at UNLV. This year at BTN.com our editors are rolling out something a little different when it comes to game coverage where we create a new post for each quarter of every football game. For this Minnesota game, those posts will live in the Minnesota vs. UNLV section and that page will be updated after each quarter.

Here our Tom Dienhart previews Thursday night’s late game.

THURSDAY: Minnesota at UNLV (11 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
Why you should watch: It will be interesting to see how Minnesota deals with the often strenuous weather conditions in Vegas—windy, arid, cool, hot, who knows? I also want to see how a revamped Golden Gopher defense performs. It needs to dominate this struggling UNLV program coming off a 2-10 season under Bobby Hauck.

Keep an eye on: QB MarQueis Gray. Yes, the Gophers should be able to beat a struggling UNLV program without throwing many passes. Still, it will be interesting to see how well Gray throws the ball—especially with a still-developing group of receivers vs. a UNLV defense that annually struggles to defend the pass.

[BTN.com: Debate it: Who has best shot at BCS title game?]

Key matchup: Minnesota defensive line vs. UNLV offensive line. The Gophers and their promising front must control the line and mute UNLV running backs Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle, who are viable weapons, and make redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Sherry win the game.

Key number: 118th, where UNLV’s defense ranked last year in points allowed per game (40.4). This is an undersized defense again that will try to rely on speed. Bottom line: The Gophers may be too big and physical for the Rebels, who could be battered by Minnesota’s deep collection of running backs.

Key note: This is the first meeting between the schools, as the Gophers look for a strong effort from a defense that allowed 31.7 points per game in 2011 and allowed 40 or more four times in a battle between two schools’ whose defenses each have something to prove.

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