UNLV football:

Defense must be focus for Rebels to turn page from drubbing at Arizona

UNLV (0-1) has great chance to bounce back from 58-13 loss with home opener Saturday night against Northern Colorado

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Arizona running back Austin Hill (29) scores a touchdown against UNLV during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Rebel Room

Sunshine, Beatdowns and Knife-Wielding Punters

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Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern make sense of UNLV's 45-point loss at Arizona while exploring the ways things will get better thanks to this week's opponent, Northern Colorado.

When the Rebels looked back at it, the tape held basically the same information viewers could take away from Friday’s ESPN broadcast at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats’ path to most of their points included one-on-one situations that they won. Repeat that several times and you get the 58-13 boondoggle that has UNLV at 0-1 for the fifth straight year.

“It’s not what they did to us, it’s what we did to ourselves,” cornerback Kenneth Penny said during Monday’s press conference at the Lied Athletic Complex. The Rebels’ home opener is at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Northern Colorado.

Perhaps that comment gives the Rebels’ defense too much credit, but it’s undeniable that they were in position to make stops on a lot of impact plays, especially in the first half. The problem was what they did, or more often didn’t do, once they were there.

The first scoring drive started with a missed arm tackle inside the 5-yard line, although it did end with a defensive back getting beat. The second scoring play was the result of an aggressive attack and missed tackle.

Occasionally UNLV simply got beat, but more often the Rebels had a workable play called and found themselves in position to make a stop. Then they failed to do it. Once those big plays and points started piling up, Penny said, it was hard to stay mentally in the game.

While the Rebels could spend all week dwelling on every little thing that went wrong — and when you give up 787 yards there’s plenty of ground to cover — it wouldn’t do them any good. UNLV was a big underdog and things got out of hand.

“We need to flush last weekend’s game and get on to the next one,” coach Bobby Hauck said.

Two factors should help that that process. One is that UNLV lost to Arizona by exactly the same 58-13 score last year. The following week the Rebels mounted a 21-point comeback against Central Michigan and won four straight games.

While they don’t anticipate a quarterback change like the one that helped kick start that comeback, the blueprint for bouncing back from this loss is there.

“Most of the guys in the locker room who are playing were a part of that last year,” Hauck said.

The other factor is that this week’s opponent, Northern Colorado, is a significant step down in competition. While preseason polls don’t mean much once you step on the field, the Bears were picked last in both the coaches and media polls for the 13-team Big Sky Conference.

For the defense that should mean players who are easier to keep track of and corral than guys like Bishop Gorman grad Anu Solomon, who set an Arizona freshman quarterback record with 425 passing yards and added 50 yards on the ground.

Offensively, the Rebels would like freshman Devonte Boyd to debut at home as well as he did on the road. The Basic High grad was one of the few bright spots with six catches for 102 yards, the second most for a collegiate debut in program history.

“From an outside perspective I don’t know what people expected from him but we didn’t expect anything less,” said quarterback Blake Decker. “That’s what we anticipate our receiving corps being able to do every week.”

Boyd’s production paired with roommate Devante Davis’ eighth career 100-yard receiving game helped that group live up to some of the hype. To keep it up, though, they’ll need help from a running game that didn’t get off on the right foot.

Keith Whitely didn’t get another carry after fumbling in the red zone early in the second quarter. David Greene carried only three times because he’s still getting up to speed after missing a lot of fall camp with an injury, and George Nahfahu averaged only 3.4 yards per attempt on eight carries.

Greene’s role will likely expand this week. Ditto for Naufahu as Whitely attempts to work his way out of the doghouse. Hauck said Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, the team’s leading returning rusher, is still “down the list, for the time being” as he works on what Hauck called a team matter.

Running back is one spot to monitor when the Rebels take the field looking for their first victory. More important, though, will be seeing if the defense can get in the right spot and then make the play this time around.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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