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UNLV to challenge rugged San Diego State defense

Defense long has been a hallmark of Rocky Long-coached teams, and no one in the Mountain West is playing better defense than San Diego State.

The Aztecs take a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. meeting with UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium, and they have allowed 62 points over that span.

Also:

— San Diego State has held its past 13 Mountain West opponents to less than 400 yards. In giving up 287 yards per game this season, the Aztecs are first in the league and sixth nationally.

— The Aztecs have allowed single digits in points four times this season. The last time they did that was in 2003. San Diego State has allowed 17.1 points per game, best in the conference and ninth in the nation.

— It’s an opportunistic defense with 16 interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. San Diego State’s 24 takeaways are first in the Mountain West and fifth nationally.

Long is the winningest coach in Mountain West history, with 101 victories between five seasons at San Diego State and 10 at New Mexico. He also won three games in 1998 when New Mexico was in the Western Athletic Conference.

At both schools, Long has been known for his 3-3-5 defense that is designed to bring pressure and create confusion for opposing offenses.

“I think our defense is as complicated as any college defense in the country,” Long said. “It’s not as complicated as what they do in the NFL. What they do in the NFL gets much more complicated than what we do, but for a college defense, we’re very complicated.”

• INJURY UPDATE — UNLV center Will Kreitler (hip pointer) was cleared and practiced Wednesday morning.

Wide receiver Aaron Criswell (concussion) practiced but without contact. He is expected to play. Tight end Andrew Price (ankle) and safety/holder Troy Hawthorne (concussion) probably won’t play.

LAS VEGAS WEST — There are plenty of Aztecs who know their way around the Las Vegas valley.

Star running back Donnel Pumphrey went to Canyon Springs High School. His coach at the time, Hunkie Cooper, is San Diego State’s wide receivers coach. Cooper is a former Rebels standout and a member of the Arena Football League Hall of Fame.

Two former UNLV head coaches are on the San Diego State staff. Associate head coach and offensive coordinator Jeff Horton was a UNLV assistant in 1990 and 1991 and the head coach from 1994 to 1998. Bobby Hauck, now the Aztecs’ special teams coordinator, was the Rebels’ head man the past five seasons.

EXPENSIVE DROP — UNLV quarterback Kurt Palandech threw the perfect pass to Criswell in the closing seconds of Saturday’s 49-35 loss at Colorado State, and the receiver dropped the sure touchdown. Had he held on and Nicolai Bornand converted the extra point, the Rebels would have covered as 7½-point underdogs.

Tough break for UNLV backers, but considering Colorado State had a 21-point lead until the final two minutes, it would have been a bad beat for those betting on the Rams.

GOOD WORKS — On Saturday, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth will run a Plastic Food Drive before the game. The organization is asking for gift cards of $5 or $10 for fast-food restaurants and of $25 or $50 for grocery stores. Fans also can enter a raffle and participate in games.

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

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