Utah State 'D' imposing obstacle for UNLV

Offense — or lack of defense — has been one of the themes for the Mountain West this football season.

But Utah State is showing teams can still put a top defense on the field and be successful.

The Aggies lead the conference in total and scoring defense, ranking 16th nationally in both categories.

Utah State (5-4, 4-1 MW), which plays UNLV (5-4, 3-2) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, likes to bring pressure from different angles.

“They do a nice job of disguising and moving around,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said Monday. “The one thing that to me shows up is generally when you’re playing a team that likes to do that, they give up some big runs and get creased occasionally. These guys don’t. They do a real good job of knowing where everybody fits. That probably has a lot to do with how veteran they are on that side of the ball.”

Utah State starts seven seniors and three juniors on its 3-4 defense, which allows 342.2 yards per game and an 18.9-point scoring average.

The Aggies possess the Mountain West’s best defense, and it’s not even close. San Diego State is second in the conference in total defense, allowing a 409.5-yard average. Boise State is the second-best scoring defense, giving up a 25.2-point average.

End Kyler Fackrell was named the conference defensive player of the week after making nine tackles and returning an interception 99 yards for a touchdown in the Aggies’ 47-10 victory over Hawaii on Saturday.

He’s part of an improving Utah State defense, which allowed 10 points in each of the past two games, a nice bounce back from losses of 31-14 to Brigham Young and 34-23 to Boise State. The Aggies recorded a combined eight sacks in the two victories since.

“I think we definitely needed to answer the call,” Fackrell said. “We did not perform well against BYU especially, or against Boise State. There were some things that we knew we needed to change, so no matter what the offense was doing, giving up points in the 30s is not OK with us. We got the coverage right, and we got the D-line and everybody focused on pressuring the quarterback, which has been a big thing.”

UNLV’s offensive line will have to protect quarterback Caleb Herring, who was forced to scramble during Saturday’s 34-24 loss to San Jose State, rushing for 55 yards.

The Spartans, though, put most of their effort into shutting down the Rebels’ running game, and it worked. Tim Cornett, who is closing in on 1,000 yards for the second season in a row, was held to 24 yards on 12 carries. It was his lowest production since gaining a single yard on Oct. 8, 2011, at UNR.

San Jose State’s strategy could be a recipe of success for Utah State to follow, but Hauck said he thought the Aggies would more likely would play their typical defense rather than specifically target an area of UNLV’s offense.

“They’re not like San Jose,” Hauck said. “They’ve been doing this for six or seven or eight years up there, so they’re going to do what they do, and they do it well.”

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