It was, more than anything, a defense of folly.
UNLV’s football team for years surrendered points and yards as if running an annual Christmas toy drive.
Come one. Come all. Nobody leaves empty handed.
Consider: The Rebels are 7-5 and will meet North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Wednesday, and yet in the 13 years that passed between postseason appearances, UNLV allowed an average of 30 or more points eight times and an average of more than 377 yards all but once.
Even now, as Bobby Hauck’s team celebrates the program’s first winning season since 2000, those averages are 31.5 points and 436 yards.
But the missed tackles and blown coverages and faulty assignments have become fewer and fewer with the arrival this year of Hauck’s brother, Tim, as defensive coordinator.
The Rebels are flying to the ball and making plays in a manner they haven’t for years, an attitude adjustment that was needed if UNLV was ever going to stop anyone.
“You look at the past, and UNLV has always been poor defensively,” Tim Hauck said. “I really didn’t know what to expect when I got here. I was definitely concerned. It wasn’t about a system or scheme. It had to begin with the right mentality. How are we going to play fast? How are we going to play physical? That’s what we needed to get through to them.
“The guys have been flat-out amazing. They love to play. They have great chemistry. As far as what my expectations were for them, they have achieved them and probably gone beyond them. The season went on and you could see that mentality developing. We would show them on tape, ‘OK, we did it right for five plays, then 10, then 15 …’ It just carried over the course of the year until the San Diego State game.
“That’s how we want to look all of the time.”
The domination Tim Hauck speaks of resulted in a 45-19 drubbing of the Aztecs in UNLV’s regular-season finale, as complete and impressive a victory as Bobby Hauck’s team has produced in his four-year tenure in Las Vegas.
San Diego State arrived Nov. 30 as the Mountain West’s hottest team and left a beaten and bruised one, having managed just 88 yards rushing within its 327 total.
In the world of physicality, UNLV beat the snot out of San Diego State.
It was the sort of defensive performance Tim Hauck envisioned when the Rebels gathered for fall camp in Ely, the level of efficiency he believed UNLV could discover from then until now.
Not perfect by any means, but memorable in its effort.
“Used to be, we didn’t have any confidence on defense,” senior lineman Tyler Gaston said. “We would go into games and one bad play would lead to another and another and our attitudes would all go downhill. But (Tim Hauck) came here and gave us confidence, just a relentless level of positive feedback. He brought a vibe we just hadn’t known here.
“Things can always be better. But the coaches have recruited good players and good players are supposed to improve every snap. I’m looking forward to coming back here and seeing a defense that’s better than the one I’m leaving. It’s going to take work. Everything does. Nothing happens overnight.”
It certainly didn’t at UNLV.
Recalling just a few of the many recent defensive nightmares:
Brigham Young 52, UNLV 7: The Rebels rolled over in Provo on this October day in 2006, allowing 574 yards. It was 21-0 after the first quarter. Mike Hague of Brigham Young went 87 yards for a score with 3:21 left, trailed by UNLV defenders who weren’t even running at a 50 percent clip. Flat. Gave. Up.
UNR 63, UNLV 28: This is the game in 2009 that forced UNLV to purchase a coffin for Mike Sanford. In their 52nd game under the then-head coach, the visiting Rebels allowed 773 yards on 74 plays while UNR went 7-for-7 on third down and never punted. If the Wolf Pack hadn’t turned the ball over four times, it would have scored near 80 and had at least 900 yards. Seriously.
Brigham Young 55, UNLV 7: This one came during Hauck’s first season at UNLV in 2010, when the Rebels allowed 516 yards at Provo against a dead-flat average Brigham Young side. It was 55-0 before UNLV found the end zone.
It’s not to say those times are long gone — the Rebels allowed more than 50 points to Minnesota and Arizona in losses to begin this season — but as the weeks passed, a change occurred.
A mindset was born.
“We can get a lot better,” Tim Hauck said. “But our guys understand now exactly what is expected of them. They understand how we want things done.”
A folly, no more.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.