UNLV’s defensive line struggled badly last football season and has been a liability for several years.
Expectations, however, were different this season.
It was a more experienced line, and some key new recruits figured to make it perhaps the strongest part of the defense. Four games into the season, the line is meeting expectations.
“They’ve played well up front on defense,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “We’re a little more veteran there than we’ve been in past years.”
The Rebels, who play at New Mexico at 5 p.m. PDT Saturday, allow 378.5 yards per game, third in the Mountain West. That’s their lowest mark since allowing the same average in 2004.
It’s a long season, and UNLV still faces playmaking quarterbacks such as Fresno State’s Derek Carr, San Jose State’s David Fales and Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton.
But with the promising early play by the defense, much of the credit is due to the line. Tackle Tyler Gaston leads the team with three sacks and is tied for the lead in tackles for loss with three. The line, in fact, has been responsible for all six sacks and 10 of the 18 tackles for loss.
UNLV also finally has the luxury of playing linemen who aren’t winded, going two-deep across the front with little drop-off.
“Being able to breathe, especially in an up-tempo type of offense, it definitely keeps you fresh,” Gaston said. “It allows you to perform at your highest capability every play.”
■ UNLV will try to win three consecutive games for the first time since defeating Wisconsin, Hawaii and UNR in 2003. The last time the Rebels got to three victories for a season occurred in 2009 when they went 5-7. They also began that season 2-1, the last time the Rebels were over .500.
■ Running backs Tim Cornett and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, linebacker Tim Hasson and guard Nick Gstrein are listed as questionable. All except for Gstrein practiced Tuesday and Wednesday nights and should be ready to go.
■ The NCAA ruled backup junior offensive lineman C.J. Backlund ineligible for playing in Finland after initially clearing him. “They went back and decided those pickup leagues in Finland would count toward eligibility used, which I contend would mean that if you played in a city-league basketball game, you would burn a year,” Hauck said.
FOR THE RECORD
■ Cornett moved into fourth place by himself in UNLV touchdowns and a tie for third in rushing TDs. His 27 overall touchdowns are two behind Henry Bailey and Michael Morton, who share second, and 13 behind record holder Mike Thomas. Cornett is tied with Jason Thomas for rushing touchdowns with 24 and one behind Mack Gilchrist for second. Mike Thomas is the leader with 37.
■ UNLV recorded multiple interceptions in consecutive games for the first time since 2008. The Rebels have intercepted five passes for the season, each by a different defender. UNLV had nine all of last season.
■ Logan Yunker leads the Mountain West and is 11th nationally with a 45.6-yard punting average.
POS.PLAYER AREA STATUS
DB Sidney Hodge Arm Out
OL Alex Novosel Back Out
DL Dominic Baldwin Back Questionable
K Nicolai Bornand Leg Questionable
DL Efrem Clark Arm Questionable
RB Tim Cornett Leg Questionable
OL Nick Gstrein Leg Questionable
LB Tim Hasson Leg Questionable
FB Max Johnson Leg Questionable
RB Shaquille Murray- Lawrence Arm Questionable
LB Iggy Porchia Leg Questionable
WR Jerry Rice Jr. Leg Questionable
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.