Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Rebels linebacker: ‘It’s on us’ after Rebels trip themselves up in loss at Utah State
- Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies to become familiar foe in Mountain West next year
- BOX SCORE: Utah State 35, UNLV 13
- UNLV backfield trying to keep the good times rolling on the road at Utah State
- Mountain Best: Rebels climb up the rankings after big victory against Air Force
- UNLV football prepares to finally take show on the road Saturday at Utah State
- UNLV linebacker Tani Maka earns weekly defensive honor from the Mountain West
- Rebels earn their breaks and celebrate hard-fought 38-35 victory against Air Force
- Analysis: Hauck deserves time to transform UNLV football into a winner
- All UNLV Football Coverage
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get lost in Louisiana Tech’s numbers.
The Bulldogs (4-0) score the fifth-most points in the country (52 per game), and they rank 25th in rushing yardage (216 ypg) and 35th in passing (282.8 ypg). And their offensive fireworks look just as good on the road as they do at home, where the Bulldogs welcome in UNLV (1-4) this Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN3.com and Cox Cable channel 96. The past two weeks, Louisiana Tech traveled to Illinois and Virginia and walked out with victories, one lopsided and one tight, and both high-scoring.
The number that would seem to excite opponents is 118, or to frame it another way, third to last in the country. That’s where the Bulldogs’ total defense ranks after giving up nearly 530 yards per game. Trouble is there’s also the number three, which is where the team ranks in turnover margin.
In last week’s 44-38 comeback victory at Virginia, the Bulldogs scored 21 points off three interceptions. So they may give up a lot of yards, but mostly that just gives their offense more room to pile up yards after the defense inevitably takes the ball away.
Up and down the roster, this team that ranks a little outside the top 25 puts up gaudy numbers all over the field.
“The kickers are even good,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said Monday during UNLV’s press conference at the Lied Athletic Complex.
He’s not kidding, either. Senior Ryan Allen is the defending Ray Guy Award recipient, given to the top punter in the country. This year he’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt — eighth in the nation — and with a lot of credit to the Bulldogs’ coverage unit nearly half of his total punts are downed inside the 20-yard line. You just don’t get any breaks against this team.
In general, that means UNLV has to make its own breaks, something the Rebels haven’t done much of this season. They’re hoping the continued progress of a couple of freshmen back from injury on defense could help turn that around.
“It kind of epitomizes where we are a little bit when we’re talking about how good it is to have a freshman back,” Hauck said.
He was referring to defensive end Sonny Sanitoa, who saw his first action of the year Saturday after suffering a knee injury in August, but it also applies to the secondary, where freshman safety Peni Vea returned to the starting lineup after he was injured in practice leading up to the Air Force victory. Hauck said neither guy was at full speed against Utah State but that they should get closer to it in practice this week.
If Monday’s depth chart holds true, Hauck will also turn to another freshman by giving cornerback Fred Wilson his first career start. Junior Sidney Hodge has started every game at one cornerback spot, but the other went to sophomore Kenneth Penny for three games and senior Kenny Brown for the past two. Wilson’s probable start is the latest example of the problems UNLV has had when trying to stop plays down the field.
“We’re trying to get better back there,” Hauck said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in our secondary. That’s incumbent on me to facilitate that.”
Against Washington State, the problem was getting beat on simple post patterns, during which Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday basically threw the ball as far as he could and the receivers just beat the defenders to catch the ball. Last week, the critical passes started much closer to the line of scrimmage, but the running backs catching the ball still ended up more than 60 yards down the field.
“They put us away with the two screen plays in the fourth quarter that broke our backs,” Hauck said.
Neither performance is entirely on the secondary because defense starts up front and the linebackers bear responsibility, too. But as the last line of defense, the secondary is usually the one that shows up on highlights diving at ankles while the opponent scampers into the end zone, and as a group they have been picked on more than any other on UNLV’s defense.
“Every week’s a challenge,” Hodge said.
None more so than this one, when the avalanche of numbers and the players responsible for them welcome the Rebels for what could be their toughest game of the year.