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Onus on offense to produce for Rebels

RUSTON, La. – Today’s game might be an extreme example of what it will take for UNLV to win football games, but it’s an example nonetheless.

The Rebels can’t count on their improved but still struggling defense to slow, much less stop, a Louisiana Tech offense that blazed through its first four opponents.

So it will be up to the offense if the Rebels (1-4) are to have any hope – even to make the score closer than the 27½-point spread – against host Louisiana Tech (4-0) in the 4 p.m. PDT game.

“They’re fast,” Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. “They’re a good team. The kickers are even good.”

UNLV’s offense will have to score major points, just as it did in the team’s only victory – 38-35 over Air Force. And that might be the Rebels’ formula for any success this season.

Consider this: UNLV’s defense gives up 30.4 points per game, a 10-point improvement from last season. But it’s still a total high enough to mean the Rebels’ offense must win shootouts.

Also consider this: UNLV allows a 446.6-yard average, which is slightly worse than last year. That underscores the many holes on the defense.

No area has struggled more than the secondary, and the Rebels are expected to put two redshirt freshmen, a sophomore and a junior in the starting lineup against Louisiana Tech. It’s not a good formula against a team that averages 52 points.

“I’ve had young secondaries when coaching other schools,” UNLV defensive coordinator J.D. Williams said. “What happens with a young secondary is they start to mature right around Game 5, Game 6, and you start to see mistakes disappear.”

That would be tremendous news for the Rebels if Williams is proved right tonight.

That also would mean that UNLV did what Houston, Rice, Illinois and Virginia – three of them at home – failed to accomplish, and that is provide any hindrance to the Bulldogs’ offense.

Which reinforces the point about UNLV needing to get the job done offensively.

The pieces are in place for a unit that could become good by season’s end. Nick Sherry is on pace to put together the third-best passing season in UNLV history. If he maintains his current rate, Tim Cornett will become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. The receivers, including tight end Jake Phillips, are becoming reliable go-to players. And the line, despite ups and downs, has the makings of a quality front.

Consistency is a big issue. Only against Air Force did UNLV’s offense make all the key plays.

In a 35-13 loss at Utah State on Sept. 29, it failed to take advantage of two trips inside the Aggies’ 10-yard line in the third quarter that would have given the Rebels the lead entering the fourth.

The difficulty to finish drives is why UNLV has increased its scoring average only from 17.2 points per game last season to 23.8 despite taking its yardage average from 273.7 to 384.6.

But as the offense matures – eight starters are freshmen or sophomores – the scoring number should fall more in line with the yardage figure.

And for today’s game to fall short of being a massacre, that process will need to take place against Louisiana Tech.

There is hope for UNLV. The Bulldogs, perhaps tired from being on the field more than 34 minutes per game, allow 37 points and 529.8 yards per game. The latter figure is No. 118 nationally.

So the opportunity is there for UNLV’s offense.

“They’re going to make us execute all the way down the field,” Sherry said. “So they’re not going to usually give up the long ball. If we execute, I think we can have a good chance.”

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

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