As offense gets better, wobbly 'D' foils Rebels


UNLV fields its best offense in more than a decade, a young unit that should only improve in future seasons.

But for all the strides on that side of the football in coach Bobby Hauck's third season, the defense can't offer the same promise.

The Rebels, in fact, are putting a defense on the field each week that might be their worst since the mid-1990s, when opponents treated games against UNLV like seven-on-seven drills.

UNLV (1-6, 1-1 Mountain West Conference), which plays at No. 24 Boise State (5-1, 2-0) at 12:30 p.m. PDT Saturday, is allowing 478.7 yards per game. That's the Rebels' worst pace since they gave up a school-record 543-yard average in 1996. It's also the third-worst figure in school history.

UNLV yields 36 points per game, which actually is a little lower than the past two seasons. The trend, however, isn't good. Louisiana Tech and UNR, both outstanding offensive teams, combined to score 100 points on the Rebels the past two weeks.

Considering the Rebels' improved offense, which averages 26.7 points and 413.6 yards, even a mediocre defense would make UNLV more competitive. The Rebels haven't posted such high offensive numbers since averaging 28.2 points in 2000 and 417.3 yards in 1997.

Hauck said Monday the pieces are in place defensively and a direct comparison to the offense isn't fair. Junior linebacker Tim Hasson agreed.

"Especially on defense, you don't know what the offense is throwing at you," said Hasson, who went to Cimarron-Memorial High School. "On offense, you know what play you're running, what exactly you have to do. On defense, you know what play you're running, but you don't know how it's going to fit what the (opposing) offense is doing.

"We've got the players. We've got to keep improving and making it better."

Both UNLV units are young. As on offense, two seniors on defense are projected to start against Boise State.

"We've got to keep growing our guys up," Hauck said. "I think we've got the ability or will have the ability to be strong on that side of the ball.

"They need some time to become physically mature. They're not 21, 22, 23 years old; they're 17 and 18. They're playing solid in some stretches, but they need some time."

Maybe Hauck and Hasson are right. Maybe the defense will be fine. But UNLV's history of porous defenses doesn't strengthen their argument. The Rebels haven't fielded a decent defense since John Robinson coached in the early 2000s.

And three seasons into Hauck's tenure, UNLV has stood still defensively, at best, if not regressed.

Hauck tried to do something about it after last season when he demoted Kraig Paulson as the coordinator and replaced him with J.D. Williams. The Rebels also signed junior college ends James Boyd and Parker Holloway early (though Boyd joined as a quarterback).

Should Hauck sign more junior college defensive players after this season? Should he consider a staff shake-up rather than a shuffle?

If either thought was on his mind, he didn't provide any hints.

"Shoot, I'd hesitate to talk about the offseason," Hauck said. "I think we can have a great season here right now. I don't want to go down that path until Dec. 1. I love our guys. I like our team.

"I feel good about our team. You look at the record and go, 'This guy's insane.' But I'm not. We're doing good things."

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

 

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