Rebels get physical in Spring Showcase

Running back Adonis Smith already had picked up his share of yards, and all he needed was to punch it in during a goal line drill following the main portion of UNLV’s spring game.

Defensive tackle Pingi Moli, however, stood in Smith’s way.

Moli plowed into Smith, denying him another highlight Friday, and giving the defense one of its own.

“He’s real shifty, so he really had my feet going,” said Moli, a midyear junior college transfer. “I just figured where he was going to be, and I lunged.”

Teams were divided up between Scarlet and Gray, with the Scarlet winning 13-0 before 2,100 fans at Rebel Park.

Moli’s play, even if it occurred after the scrimmage had been settled, typified a day of big plays for the defense.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Tau Lotulelei and redshirt freshman safety Jonavaughn Williams, a converted wide receiver, intercepted passes. Redshirt freshman linebacker Trent Langham made three tackles for loss and blocked an extra point. Junior defensive end Siuea Vaesau and sophomore cornerback Fred Wilson each made two sacks.

Defense was ahead of the offense this spring, which wasn’t surprising considering that side of the ball was without four starters the entire session because of postseason surgeries.

Their absences gave others a chance to stand out, and players such as Smith took advantage. The junior transfer from Northwestern played well throughout the spring. On Friday, he rushed for 71 yards and a 2-yard touchdown on 10 carries.

“I was a little nervous,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like practice because every time it’s a game for me, I get a little nervous. After that first play, I’m back at it.”

His one noticeable negative — other than getting popped by Poli — was one fumble.

“I beat myself over that fumble,” Smith said. “I don’t fumble too much. Actually, I don’t fumble at all. I got a little stinger and fumbled, and I don’t like that.”

Bobby Hauck, who just wrapped up his fourth spring as the Rebels’ coach, was upbeat.

“We’ve had spring games where we get a couple of people out here, and all of a sudden our guys lose their marbles, jumping offsides, and we aren’t executing, guys are blowing assignments,” Hauck said. “We didn’t see that. This is a pretty composed group. We’re a little more veteran.”

A more experienced team will allow the Rebels to return to the practice field in August and prepare more for the schedule than settling the depth chart.

“We had a great, physical session this spring. So now we need to go focus on our opponents,” Hauck said. “We’ll have physical practices, but in terms of the live work, it will be more geared toward who we’re going to play rather than playing each other.”

■ NOTES — Sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry completed 7 of 10 passes for 59 yards with an interception. Redshirt freshman Troy Hawthorne was 5-for-11 for 48 yards with an interception and 6-yard touchdown rush.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.