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UNLV defense picking spots to be more aggressive

UNLV second-year defensive coordinator Tim Skipper didn’t send constant blitzes at Southern Utah on Saturday, but he also didn’t have his defenders sit on their heels.

The Rebels applied enough pressure to register nine tackles for loss, including four sacks — 3½ of which came from linebackers and defensive backs on blitzes.

Skipper said he would decide how much blitzing they would do on a game-by-game basis. Like most defensive coordinators, he would rather get pressure from his linemen so the cornerbacks aren’t put in single coverage. He said UNLV blitzed between 10 and 15 percent of the time in the 56-23 victory over the Thunderbirds.

“Last week’s game, it kind of naturally happened,” Skipper said. “Some of the stuff they were doing, we were able to add in back-end guys, and that’s how we got a lot of pressure.”

UNLV did most of its blitzing last year early in the season. Then the Rebels eased off as the season progressed. Skipper said injuries forced him to back off the aggression. UNLV, however, won two of its final three games.

Defensive players, of course, love being aggressive. It feeds right into their DNA.

Linebacker Javin White embodies that approach. His ability to blitz or drop into coverage gives the Rebels flexibility. He had four tackles, including one for loss, in the opener.

White watched himself on some old Pop Warner video last week, and that got him jazzed to play Southern Utah.

“I was flying around being the same kid I am now,” he said.

But White said Skipper’s defensive scheme — a 3-4 base set with a stand-up end known as the Buck — wasn’t about players freelancing. He said Skipper emphasizes disguising looks to keep opposing offenses guessing, a common tactic for coordinators.

Skipper said the big defensive plays against Southern Utah were made within the system. He said players found ways to take advantage of their opportunities without putting their teammates at risk.

The Rebels were especially effective against the run, holding Southern Utah to 46 yards. The Thunderbirds passed for 295 yards, but 157 of that was in the fourth quarter after UNLV emptied its bench.

“They played with fanatical effort,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “Those guys were flying around the field all night. We had two or three missed tackles, but for the most part guys did a really good job of tackling in space. We had one assignment error.”

UNLV didn’t have defensive end Gabe McCoy against Southern Utah. The NCAA sat him out because McCoy played some while redshirting as a freshman in 2015.

McCoy, who led the Rebels with 13½ tackles for loss last season, will be back for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against Arkansas State at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The Red Wolves figures to be a difficult challenge. They passed for 360 yards and rushed for 148 in Saturday’s 37-30 loss to Southern Methodist.

“I think in all three phases you have to be aggressive,” Sanchez said. “You can’t let them settle in ever.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.  

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