Three storylines: Ohio State vs. UNLV

1:08 p.m Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 Journal-News Sports
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer shouts to his team during a game against Army on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2017, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Backup quarterback Joe Burrow created a minor furor Thursday when he responded to a Wall Street Journal story about the Ohio State Buckeyes football program being the most valuable in the country.

“Our team is worth 1.5 BILLION dollars,” Burrow wrote on Twitter, “but it wouldn’t be fair to other students if we get a free hamburger.”

That started a chain reaction of comments highlighted by Burrow going back and forth with college basketball analyst Doug Gottleib. In many ways, the conversation was much more interesting than any discussion of No. 10 Ohio State’s game against UNLV at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

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The Buckeyes play an opponent they’ve never seen for the second straight week, but it’s also an opponent that lost to a lower-division school in its opener. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer didn’t get any UNLV-specific questions at his weekly press conference Monday.

There’s little debate about whether Ohio State will win this game. The only question is how they’ll play. Here are three storylines entering the game:

1. Big underdog: The Buckeyes (2-1) are 40-point favorites. UNLV (1-1) was an even bigger favorite Sept. 2 at home against 45-point underdog Howard. The Rebels lost 43-40. Based on the betting line alone, it was believed to be the biggest upset in college football history.

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The Rebels, who were off last week, bounced back in their second game Sept. 9 with a 44-16 victory at Idaho.

“We have a great group of kids in that locker room that have worked extremely hard for years building this program,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez told reporters after the game, “and we took a hell of a blow last week and it was hard getting out of bed last week. The way our kids showed up, the way they believe in themselves, they just went right back to work.”

2. Freshman momentum: Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins has put himself into the Heisman Trophy race. He had 40-1 odds to win this week after averaging 141.7 yards in the first three games.

“We do our job, and he’s been doing his job,” offensive lineman Branden Bowen said. “He’s been having some explosive plays. He’s fun to watch out there. He’s a guy who can take it to the house at any time.”

3. Defensive challenge: The Rebels start a redshirt freshman quarterback, Armani Rogers, who threw a 94-yard touchdown pass to Devonte Boyd in the victory against Idaho. It was the longest pass play in UNLV history. Rogers ranks 18th in the nation in pass efficiency.

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UNLV also has a running back, Lexington Thomas, who rushed for 341 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games.

UNLV will test an Ohio State defense that struggled against the pass in its first two games against Indiana and Oklahoma and then saw almost nothing but runs last week in a 38-7 victory against Army.

“They score a lot of points,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “They have a very talented quarterback. They have a receiver who’s a really good player, and then they have a tailback who’s small but man is he electric. They have weapons.”

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