Mondays with Mike: UNLV expanding fundamental focus on defense

Rebels take on a more NFL-like approach to practice


Justin M. Bowen

UNLV head coach Mike Sanford puts his head in his hand late in the game against BYU on Oct. 10, 2009. The Rebels were smashed by the Cougars 59-21.


The Rebels suffered their second straight lopsided loss, this one by No. 18 BYU. The Cougars piled up 611 yards of total offense on their way to a 59-21 victory.

UNLV vs BYU Football

UNLV wide receiver Phillip Payne reaches for an Omar Clayton pass against BYU on Oct. 10, 2009, at Sam Boyd Stadium. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

BYU POSTGAME: Rebels run ragged ... again

Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Alex Adeyanju digest all there was to take in from UNLV's 59-21 loss to BYU on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

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After another lopsided loss, what do you think happens to 2-4 UNLV against 4-1 Utah?

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Next game

  • Opponent: Utah
  • Date: Oct. 17, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
  • TV: The Mtn. (Cox ch. 334)
  • Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
  • The Line: Utah by 16.5

Editor's note: Each Monday, UNLV football coach Mike Sanford meets with the media to discuss last weekend's action and next weekend's matchup. So each week the Sun will bring you notes and quotes discussing both.

When taking into consideration the UNLV defense has allowed 122 points and 1,384 yards of total offense in its last two outings — both losses — hearing that fundamentals need work doesn't sound too surprising.

The Rebels will now enter their second week with a different approach at practice to try and correct tackling and assignment issues.

"We haven't spent as much time (lately on individual work), and as a result of that, we noticed a drop-off in fundamental play," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. "We spent more time on team work and group work, so we've gone back and mixed the two.

“Once you get into the season, there's a tendency (for first-teamers to practice) against scout teams. I love our scout team guys, but there's a drop-off in the quality of the work that you get and the speed of the work and the competitiveness of the work, so we're going back to more practicing against each other, which is more of an NFL-type practice."

On top of continuing to mention injury woes and inexperience as partial explanations for defensive holes, Sanford also alluded to the fact that the Rebels have had a knack in recent weeks for drifting away from some defensive principles that were established back in the spring and in fall camp.

However, when asked about specifics, Sanford kept things close to the vest.

"I'd rather not," he said. "I just don't want to give away our game plan."

It piled up

Citing the aforementioned reasons for recent defensive woes, Sanford and his staff found more than a few miscues when reviewing the tape of Saturday's game.

"In looking at it, I felt like we had nine plays on defense that killed us," he said. "For the most part, in that game, on defense, we did some pretty good things. But nine plays got out of there for a variety of reasons."

Injury updates

When talking about the defense's struggles, Sanford again pointed out the recent injuries to junior linebackers Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo.

Fuimaono was close to being back for the BYU game, but stayed out with an ankle injury, and is still day-to-day for this Saturday's home showdown with Utah.

It was last year at Utah where Fuimaono tore up his knee and was out the remainder of the season.

As for Paulo, he has a sprained shoulder and his status will be determined later this week.

Sophomore Kyle Watkins turned his left ankle, as did senior receiver Rodelin Anthony. Watkins is expected back out on the practice field by Wednesday, while Anthony, who missed the games at Wyoming and UNR following a concussion, will be determined as the week progresses.

Junior quarterback Omar Clayton, who returned as the starter against BYU and had his ups and downs, didn't suffer any further damage on his throwing arm and should be good to go against the Utes.

A little deeper on the depth chart, senior defensive end Preston Brooks, who was out Saturday with a sprained shoulder, is most likely out this Saturday.

As for junior defensive end B.J. Bell, he will take a medical redshirt and will most likely need surgery to repair a tear in his shoulder.

Finding balance

Saturday's loss marked the second game in a row in which UNLV all but abandoned its run game on offense.

Sophomore quarterback Mike Clausen led all Rebel rushers with 17 yards, while the team's leading ball carrier on the season — junior Channing Trotter — only got five carries.

In the past two games, Trotter, who had 295 yards and averaged 5 yards a pop in the season's first four games, has eight carries for 16 yards.

Against UNR, offensive coordinator Todd Berry said the Wolf Pack defense was daring UNLV to throw the ball by stacking the box against Clausen in his first start of the season.

This Saturday, it sounds as if it was a different case.

"Just in general, I would say we're a better offense when we're balanced," Sanford said. "We need to be balanced between run and pass. I think we were in too much of a hurry to score. We got out of what we do best on offense, and that's mixing run and pass.

"Ideally -- I won't give exact figures -- but we'd like to run for a lot more than that."

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Previous Discussion: 25 comments so far…

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  1. He just needs to resign. It cannot be fun doing all these interviews and TV appearances, knowing full well that there is not a soul out there who cares one whit about what he has to say.

  2. What game plan? The players already know that they have no chance at all to make any plays because your defensive scheme is the worst in the country and they are coached by Ernest P. Worrell. Why do you think the players give up in the 2nd quarter - Mikey? I don't know how any real players have stayed with this guy - Randle, Bridget, Childers, Herring, Barrett, Clausen, Bell please "TRANSFER" and save your career's!!!

    UNLV is the only university in the country that constantly continues to allow losing year in and year out and accept it as the norm. UNLV is the mockery of every D-1 program in the nation, I know JC & D-2 programs that could pad their stats against this abortion of a team and beat UNLV heads up. What a joke!!!

  3. UNLV and Football is like Drew Barrymore and Tom Green- It's a marriage that just won't last.

  4. He's STILL employed?

    No one at UNLV cares about the football program. That much is clear.

    Everyone talks a big game. No one is willing to lift a finger. What about Neal's statement after the UNR loss? I guess he figures no one cares enough at this point to hold him accountable.

    If these pathetic losers let Sanford ride out the year, we should just scrap the football program and join the WCC.

    Losses, excuses and indifference define UNLV Football.

  5. You mean to tell me if we had guys like Fuiamono and Paulo healthy against BYU, we would have made up 38 points? Is Sanford simply delusional, or a pathological liar? Forget NFL-style drills this week, Coach. You can't even manage a viable D-1 approach. These excuses are pathetic.

  6. I wonder if Sanford is in a game of chicken with UNLV brass. If he quits, does he get the CA$H? If they fire him, he sure DOES! Will UNLV finally pull the trigger and pay him $250k+ or will Sanford man up and walk away into the sunset leaving a troubled program that he has done little to improve in his wake...

  7. Coach Therrell's defense is just awful, as it was last year too. And Vic Shealy was just as terrible (it took Sanford 3 years to finally fire Shealy). I'd like to read an article about what Sanford looks for when hiring a defensive coordinator. What were his criteria? Because these two have been back-to-back the worst we've seen around here. I mean, Coach Bradeson was demoted for these guys??

    Rocky Long, a proven and respected defensive coordinator, became available in the off-season and Sanford chose to pass on him--didn't even make a phone call. Now Rocky Long is at SDSU, while back at UNLV Coach Therrell is still giving up more yards and points to teams than I care to watch anymore.

    Memo to Mike Sanford: It sounds retarded and incompetent when you say things like "we have to match score for score to win the game." I mean, if your gameplan is to score 65+ points every week to squeak out a win then that, my friend, is why your losing record continues to pile up. As head coach, the vast majority of your attention and recruiting and hiring has been stemmed toward "the offense." I'm sorry but you're not an offensive coordinator anymore, you're supposed to be a HEAD COACH. Yet you still neglect to take care of things on the defensive side, and then make excuse after excuse after excuse for it. The REASON your team consistently loses is NOT because you can't score enough, but because your defense continues to be at the bottom of the conference, and has been for the past five years now, and near the very bottom for the entire nation. But what do I know, I'm just a fan (no longer in the bleachers).

  8. Gus-

    UNLV won't fire Sanford, and won't get stuck
    with the full buyout. They'll reassign him a la Bayno, make him head of promotional development or something, then let the lawyers
    figure out how much he gets paid.

    Just a matter of when. The lawyers might have a reason for why they're waiting to pull the trigger until after bowl eligibility is moot.

    Alternately -- Why waste the momentum
    shift of a midseason coaching change in a week against BYU, UofU or TCU? At least make it a winnable week.

  9. I'm done, it's a wrap!! President Smatresk don't speak about it, be about it!! Smatresk is just a bunch of talk and all he is doing is blowing sunshine up Vegas' backside, he doesn't plan on making any significant changes or they would have been made by now. He has had 3 full weeks to make something happen since the Wyoming meltdown and has done nothing. Something should have been done then. UNLV fans Smatresk is a liar just like the rest of the clowns running the circus called UNLV.

    I was trying to adopt UNLV as my second team since I now live in Vegas but I cannot & will not follow them any longer until this whole regime is wiped out like the plague that they are. Why should any of us even care or give a rats a** when the university doesn't care? What a disgrace to former D-1 football players this university is. No wonder they cannot get footballers with heart, grit, and a champions attitude. I am so glad I never played for this disaster of a program because I would have either transfered or had my scholarship revoked for kicking somebody's a** in that clubhouse...

  10. I'm surprised Dennis Therrell is not gone yet. The defense has given up 773 and 610 yards in the past two weeks. A Change needs to be made.

  11. Good point Rain- They should stick him teaching a class on "the origin and justification of excuses in college sports." Maybe a guest lecture series can include all the UNLV basketball coaches between Tark and Krueger.

  12. SAMSTREK better MAN UP or he'll soon find himself in the firing line with Sanford and the idiot Koloskie.

  13. Fundamental tackling ,should be done even in pre-game warmups!
    Ryan ,get the shirts?
    we will beat Utah!
    Rebel Fan84-Exactly!!!

  14. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH AND MORE BLAH. Let us face it, UNLV does not give a cow chip about the football program, the players or anyone else. What they need to realize, though, is that if the money dries out from contributions by donors and alumni, and if there is no money coming in from sports, (UNLV) is going to be "up a creek without a paddle"

    UNLV does not care about all those excuses coming out of Sanford's mouth, or KoloSTOOGEski, or anyone else that is just as blind as those two mentioned here. If UNLV really cared, those two would have been gone after the UNR game.

    Anyone remember the song Three blind mice?

  15. Baha - The money UNLV makes from donors is pocket change compared to the money it gets from its TV contract and from a team making a BCS game.

    The TV contract is $12 million a year for the conference, so figure a million at least goes to UNLV athletics from that. Another $600k or so from the BCS bonus.

    The donors don't run football. They could keep it on life support and still make their money.

  16. They should scrap the entire football program. The state is in dire straights financially, and this disaster of a program if just throwing money out the window. Think of the millions we could be saving and putting to better educational use.

  17. I agree with the outrage displayed towards the football program in its current ineptness, but I refuse to join in on the lynch mob mentality that the program should be scrapped. I hate the level of play being put on display the past few weeks, but I have not lost sight of the fact that we have won two games. I will continue to hope that there is some action taken, but will not jump off the ship. Being a fan means that you have to weather the storm (even if it does cover 85% of the past 25 years). Our players deserve at least that much loyalty.

  18. BringtheRain, I agree, however, who is going to want to televise a loosing team?

  19. Hire Larry Kehres!

  20. Hey Coach Sanford,
    Glad you read my, let's see if you can get the team to buy-in to your leadership.....Hope they do for your sake...otherwise, your days may and could be numbered if UNLV cares anything about the football program....good luck this weekend and GO REBS!!!!

  21. I'm hoping UNLV can savage their season and beat UT. Impossible? No. We have a better QB. We have better receivers. Our offense is better overall. If our defense can stop their offense or force some turnovers, and our offense starts playing as they did last season, we will win, simple as that.

    Defensive coordinator Therrell needs to miss some sleep this week and think of ways to get his players to play defense. His job should be on the line. Utah's offense isn't as big a puzzle as BYU or UNR, they're less complicated. Playing man on the receivers and running some run and pass blitzes on at least key downs should be considered in lieu of dropping off on zone all game.

    Good luck Rebs! Man up and win this game!

  22. Why don't we blitz every down? Our D plays like they're afraid to give up the big play, but then someone gets burned deep anyway! Get some pressure on the QB, we have no coverage as it stands anyway. I do not consider a 4 man rush a blitz.

  23. Additionally, the majority of funding for athletics comes from donations and ticket sales. So no, scrapping the program would not save the state any money.

  24. Can't blitz every down but you can put pressure on the QB and force him to make some bad throws every not and then. Our DB's are good for man to man and tackling after a catch, not stopping plays that are thrown on the money. By blitzing, they can also stop the run better, blitz into the runs. As things stand, if we continue as we are, we'll give up 6-7 yds a run and 5 yrd passes to the RB coming out of the backfield wide open which turns into a 20yrd pass. One LB needs to be assigned to the QB, one to the RB to man assignments and blitz whomever else is left standing around doing nothing. At least if they did that every now and then (and faked it the rest of the time) it would make the offense think. That and fundamental TEAM TACKLING is what is needed. Oh yeah, hire someone to call them "PUSSY" on the sideline if they don't do their job of they miss a tackle. The should fire them up!

  25. We have the "pussy" man already. He's a 12 pack deep by kickoff and sits on our sideline at the 50 yard line.