There are certain members of UNLV's offense that should look familiar to Wisconsin fans and players Saturday. Senior tailback Dominique Dorsey, who ran for 100 yards on 26 carries against Wisconsin in the Rebels' 23-5 win last season. Senior quarterback Kurt Nantkes, who was 12-for-25 for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Earvin Johnson, who had only 41 yards but two touchdowns.
These three players, all of whom played pivotal roles against Wisconsin, will return to Madison along with the rest of the Rebels, who are looking to play another tough game.
"Going to Wisconsin is going to be tough. You know that they're upset about what happened last year and right now, we're just trying to work hard and know that they're going to be gunning for us so we've got to work even harder," Johnson said after practice Wednesday.
Johnson bruised his left knee in UNLV's 42-17 loss to Tennessee Sunday and did not practice Wednesday but thought he would play Saturday. He amassed 87 yards on eight receptions against the Volunteers and was one of the Rebels' main offensive weapons. If he should have knee problems during the game, UNLV has backups in redshirt freshman Marques Johnson and sophomore Donell Wheaton; of the two, only Wheaton has a stat—a 10-yard catch against Tennessee. Junior wide receiver Terry Furlow, who lines up opposite Earvin Johnson, had one catch for 34 yards against the Volunteers.
"We've got a couple of guys that could end up rotating in if something happens to my knee," Johnson said. "I think we've got a couple of guys that could come in and just do the same job."
Dorsey, who had 230 all-purpose yards, including 121 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts against Tennessee, is another offensive force who could present problems for the Badgers.
"He was very impressive," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I liked him last year. … I like backs like that. He's quick. He can make things happen. He makes you miss. I thought he looked, he was the fastest guy on the field [against Tennessee]."
"He stretched the defense out with the way he runs and gets through holes," Earvin Johnson said on Dorsey. "He's a key part of our offense. With him, we've got a couple of other backs that can rotate with him and that's going to help us a lot."
Behind Dorsey, however, there are few players with much experience. Junior JaJa Riley, listed at No. 2 on the depth chart, rushed for 21 yards on four carries against the Volunteers, while senior halfback Dyante Perkins had 37 yards on seven carries and UNLV's other touchdown. Riley, who transferred from Ohio State and sat out in 2003, had only 44 yards on 12 carries at Ohio State in 2002. Perkins, meanwhile, played at fullback until last spring and had 219 yards on 54 carries in 2003, while racking up 218 receiving yards on 16 catches.
The elder statesman of the group is Nantkes, who completed high school in 1998 but was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 1998 Major League Baseball draft and pitched for Oakland's Class A minor league team. Nantkes, who will turn 25 in November, joined the Rebels in 2000 and redshirted his freshman year before taking the field.
"He's the leader," Johnson said. "He's always been the leader. He's like the oldest guy on our team and he's more about leadership. He knows what to do, he knows how things are going, like in a situation, how to get out of it."
Head coach John Robinson announced prior to the season that the Rebels would start Nantkes but give backup quarterback sophomore Shane Steichen time running the offense as well. Steichen only played the final series against Tennessee and threw one incomplete pass.
"If Kurt is doing good, I think they're probably going to stick with him but if not, you may see Shane out there," Johnson said.
Poor special teams play, missed opportunities plagues…