Sanford prepares to juggle Rebels’ permissive defense

Declaring "no job is safe," UNLV football coach Mike Sanford has let it be known that standing pat defensively is not an option for his team.

The Rebels, who are off this week, have allowed a combined 1,130 yards and 90 points the past two weeks in losses to UNR and Colorado State.

Those defeats stopped the Rebels’ momentum, dropping them to 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the Mountain West Conference. UNLV, having beaten Arizona State and Iowa State, had been enjoying its best start in five seasons.

"I’d say I’m concerned," Sanford said of the lost momentum. "That’s something we’ve got to flip back around the other way."

Sanford said Monday he and his staff would huddle this week to devise defensive changes, but that they would have more to do with personnel rather than the system.

"We’re looking at people who haven’t played much and giving them a chance to win a job," Sanford said. "Every week, there’s got to be competition, and the bottom line is we’ve got to raise our standard and we’ve got to improve. We can’t keep giving up big plays. We’ve got to improve the run defense."

UNR hit the Rebels with 20 plays of at least 10 yards, including seven of at least 20. The Wolf Pack also rushed for 444 yards.

Colorado State produced 15 plays of at least 10 yards, with eight of at least 20. The Rams had 216 yards on the ground.

UNLV’s defensive collapse has placed a heavy burden on the offense to try to win scoring contests. That has been a lot to ask, even of an improved offense that had positive stretches in both games. The Rebels passed for 327 yards against UNR and ran for 174 and passed for 173 at Colorado State.

But the offense also was inconsistent. The Rebels scored 10 points over the final three quarters of their 49-27 loss to UNR, and were shut out in the middle periods in Saturday’s 41-28 defeat at Colorado State.

"We can’t have lulls on offense," Sanford said.

He singled out the need to cut down on turnovers and to better protect quarterback Omar Clayton. The Rebels committed four turnovers over the past two games after having only one in the first four weeks. UNLV has allowed only six sacks, but three came in the past two games.

"We want over the next week to look at the offensive line and see who the best five are," Sanford said.

He also said he wants to see who among the entire offense deserves more playing time, and he named backup tailback C.J. Cox as someone who should get more carries. Cox has just eight carries, but is averaging 6.1 yards.

The Rebels’ bye week comes at a particularly good time, Sanford said, in hopes it could help halt the negative momentum. It also will give UNLV extra time to prepare for Air Force’s dangerous triple option offense. The Falcons visit UNLV on Oct. 18 to begin the season’s second half.

"We’re looking at it as a brand new season for the team," Sanford said.

NOTE — Cornerback Geoffery Howard has a sprained toe, and probably will not go through full practices today and Wednesday, but should be better by Thursday.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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