Beleaguered defense takes shine off Rebels’ strides on offense

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck isn’t willing to accept the notion the Rebels must win high-scoring games if they are to experience success.

The young offense showed promise in Thursday’s season-opening 51-17 loss at No. 11 Wisconsin, but UNLV’s long-struggling defense put up little resistance.

“I’ll keep saying it, some day — hopefully, this coming Saturday — we’ve got to play good defense here if we want to be a good football team,” Hauck said. “It’s what you have to do. We’re going to keep going, we’re going to improve, and we’re going to play good defense.”

UNLV plays at Washington State at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Cougars clobbered Idaho State 64-21 on Saturday.

Wisconsin rolled up 499 yards on the Rebels, balancing its offense between 241 rushing and 258 passing. The Badgers’ starting offense had the ball eight times and scored seven touchdowns and a field goal.

UNLV defensive tackle Trent Allmang-Wilder said game video showed the mistakes were correctable.

“We can definitely be more gap sound,” Allmang-Wilder said. “I was in the wrong gap a couple of plays. We’ve got a lot to work on on the defensive line. We’ve need more pressure on the quarterbacks. It’s a bunch of things.”

The good news for UNLV is it might not play the combination of a quarterback, running game and offensive line as strong as Wisconsin’s again this season.

Hauck, though, wouldn’t excuse UNLV’s performance just because it faced a quality opponent.

“Whether it’s a scrimmage (repetition) in spring ball or a game rep against Wisconsin, we’ve got to take them all like they’re life and death,” Hauck said. “Football’s not life and death, but we’ve got to treat it that way.

“We’ve got a lot to work on, but it’s all correctable. (Wisconsin is) good. Let’s play well against a good team.”

UNLV’s defense has plenty to prove.

It ranked second-to-last in 2010 in the Mountain West Conference in total, scoring and rush defense, and last in pass defense. The Rebels allowed averages of more than 30 points and 400 yards per game each of the past three seasons.

Their offense fared only slightly better but showed enough promise at Wisconsin to indicate better days are ahead.

A mostly freshman and sophomore offensive line, a sophomore quarterback and two sophomore running backs helped the Rebels break into Wisconsin’s red zone five times. UNLV scored two touchdowns and a field goal.

But even if the offense continues to improve, whether the defense comes along with it is the question.

The only piece of evidence is the game at Wisconsin, but quarterback Caleb Herring shot down the idea the offense needed to get into a scoring shootout against the Badgers.

“It’s always a goal to put points on the board, but we never felt that we had to score a certain amount of points, that our defense was going to give up points,” he said. “We believe in our defense just like they believe in us.”

■ NOTES — The NCAA ruled safety Dre Crawford ineligible, but the decision is being appealed. The junior college transfer signed early with Minnesota, but one of his credits wasn’t accepted. He walked on at UNLV, and Hauck said the issue should be resolved in the Rebels’ favor. “It’s a progress-to-degree deal based on number of semesters,” Hauck said. “It’s an appeal that if there’s any common sense involved, it’ll go through.” … Right tackle Yusef Rodgers was back with the starting offense in practice Saturday. Cameron Jefferson replaced him in the second quarter at Wisconsin, but Hauck said Rodgers will start at Washington State. … Wide receiver Marcus Sullivan, who remains academically ineligible, did not practice because of illness. … Cornerback Ken Spigner was absent because of a death in the family.

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

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