PULLMAN, Wash. — UNLV’s defense finally made a stop late in the second quarter Saturday, but by that time Washington State has made its point.
The Cougars scored touchdowns on their first five possessions in a 59-7 victory over the Rebels, meaning UNLV’s defense had given up TDs on 12 of the first 13 times an opposing starting offense had the football this season.
Wisconsin settled for a field goal on one possession in its Sept. 1 season opener against the Rebels because halftime was approaching.
The fact UNLV’s defense is struggling is no surprise. The Rebels haven’t fielded a quality defense since coach John Robinson’s stint, which ended in 2004.
But here is why these struggles are especially concerning: UNLV’s defense has been overmatched at the line of scrimmage, some players appeared out of position, and those in position often failed to make plays.
“When a ball breaks in our gap, we’ve got to make the play,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “When the ball is thrown to the man we’re covering, we’ve got to make the play. It’s rampant on our defense right now.”
Hauck said any blame should be directed at him and not defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson.
“It falls on me,” Hauck said. “We’re a staff. It’s a unit, and everybody’s got input into what we do. That’s my job.”
A major issue is how long it will take to correct these problems.
UNLV spent the past three years allowing more than 30 points and 400 yards per game, and nothing indicates those numbers this season will be any different.
Not after Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael passed for 361 yards and five touchdowns, and the Cougars totaled 610 yards of offense.
That followed Wisconsin’s 499-yard output.
“We’ve got to get a better pass rush and help our (defensive backs) out a lot,” said defensive end James Dunlap, who recorded the Rebels’ lone sack. “My only sack, I don’t think that’s good enough for us as a defensive front to be able to help extend the plays. We gave up too much.”
Next up is Hawaii, which will show up at Sam Boyd Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday with its high-powered passing game that ended UNLV’s season last year with a 59-21 defeat.
If there is hope for the Rebels’ future, it’s not apparent now.
“Our goal each week is to vastly improve, and I mean that with all seriousness,” Paulson said. “We have a standard of play that we’re trying to set, and we’re not going to back off of that. I don’t think the kids are, either.”
Part of the problem is it’s not just one phase where the Rebels are struggling.
UNLV is not properly stopping the run, pressuring quarterbacks and defending receivers downfield.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Paulson said. “You’ve got to get lined up right, and you’ve got to make plays. That’s how you start analyzing it.
“We’re definitely a work in progress. These are the guys we’ve got. We’ll keep fighting, keep pushing them, keep working with them, and get them better.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.