UNLV safety Jamaal Brimmer is a Rebel with a cause.
The two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year is putting the finishing touches on a collegiate career that has featured 252 tackles, 32 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks, seven interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (5 p.m., KJZZ, Ch. 14) he'll face Utah for the final time.
"Everyone knows his name and knows what he's all about," said Ute defensive back Morgan Scalley. "Our offensive is definitely aware of him and where's he's going to be on the field."
Brimmer, UNLV's first returning All-American since quarterback Randall Cunningham in 1984, is a candidate for numerous national accolades including the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Jim Thorpe Award.
"Simply the best — Jamaal Brimmer is an elite defensive player. He is one of the most instinctive players I have coached at any level," UNLV coach John Robinson said in the team's weekly press release. "(He) reminds me a lot of Ronnie Lott in terms of instincts and ability to attack. He will look forward to an excellent NFL career."
As such, wide receiver Steve Savoy and the Utes plan to keep a watchful eye on Brimmer. They're expecting him to spearhead UNLV's effort to disrupt the MWC's top offense.
Though it'll be a challenge, Savoy is confident they'll "be ready."
Utah is also busy preparing for tough assignments on defense and special teams.
"They have the leading rusher in the conference (Dominique Dorsey) and a wide receiver (Earvin Johnson) who's very underrated. He's caught a lot of balls for them and beat a lot of people deep," said Scalley. "With every team, if you don't come prepared to play and focus on the task at hand, they're going to scorch you."
That, in part, is why Utah coach Urban Meyer is determined to fix his team's poor kickoffs. UNLV's Dorsey and teammate Erick Jackson both average 21 yards or better on returns.
With kicker Bryan Borreson sidelined with a recurring groin injury, Meyer plans to use punter Matt Kovacevich on kickoffs. Freshman David Carroll will do the place-kicking.
ON NEWSSTANDS NOW: The latest issue of ESPN The Magazine includes a feature on Utah quarterback Alex Smith and high school teammate Reggie Bush of USC.
"It was very fun to do," said Smith, who called the experience with his friend kind of surreal.
The article focused on differences between the Utes and Trojans and brought up the possibility of a possible match-up at season's end.
"It was different. I think they played up the whole BCS things a little too much. About how great it is there and how bad it is here. I think that was played out a little too much," Smith said in reviewing the article. "It was good publicity, I think, for the school and for the football team. It didn't come off too bad."
Meyer, though, was disappointed.
"They never said anything that our facilities were nicer than USC's and ours are. Go ask Mike Sanford who coached at USC," said Meyer, who noted that the article never mentioned that Smith is a great student and is one of the top five quarterbacks in the country.
He also didn't take kindly to having Utah's Liberty Bowl success mocked.
"You're getting me riled up again," said Meyer, who last week vented his displeasure at remarks made by ESPN analyst Trev Alberts.
EXTRA POINTS: While most people stayed indoors Wednesday, the Utes practiced as usual at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The players and coaches were on the field during two hours of pouring rain and by the time they finished at 6:15 p.m. water was puddling on the synthetic FieldTurf . . . The Utes will be ready if it rains on Saturday, but the forecast calls for dry weather and temperatures in the low 50s for the 5 p.m. start.