Courtesy UNLV athletics.
Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV defense was hard to watch last year. They gave up 43 points in a loss to Howard, 41 points in a loss to San Diego State, 34 points in a loss to Air Force, and a whopping 52 points in a loss to Utah State. For the season, opponents averaged 31.8 points per game.
It was so hard to watch that new defensive coordinator Tim Skipper never even bothered to try.
“For me, personally, I didn’t watch last year’s film,” Skipper said on Friday, after his second training-camp session with the Rebels. “I didn’t watch any of it because I had nothing to do with it. Our first meeting, I told everybody, ‘You’re on a clean slate. So starting from spring ball all the way through the season, whatever you’ve done from that point is all that we’re judging you off of.’”
That’s probably as good an approach as any when it comes to overhauling the defense. On a unit with few proven playmakers, Skipper is hoping the next four weeks of training camp will unearth enough players to field a lineup that can execute his aggressive, energy-infused system.
To find those potential building-block players, Skipper is keeping it simple in the early days of camp.
“Right now it’s all about the fundamentals,” he said. “Taking proper angles to the ball, executing the defense, doing it with authority. Sometimes the guys are where they need to be, but they’re not there with the physical, demanding, “I’m gonna make a play”-type attitude. So all those little fundamental things.”
His goal over the next four weeks will be teaching the players the basics of his scheme. Once they’ve got it down, Skipper expects them to play with 100-percent intensity on every snap, all the way through the whistle.
“Fanatical effort, man. That’s going to be the key. We’ve got to play hard, and we’ve got to play smart. Keep it simple and effective [with] schemes and just let it go. Play confident. That’s the whole key to playing defense. When you’re confident, it shows up.”
Head coach Tony Sanchez likes what he has seen from Skipper, who was the linebackers coach at Florida last year.
“Looking at the energy out there and the way the guys are practicing, they believe in the system and what we’re doing,” Sanchez said. “So I’m really impressed. I think Skip has done a heck of a job so far.”
UNLV should once again be among the Mountain West’s top scoring teams, so in theory the defense only needs to provide complimentary support in order to win games. One way to do that is to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks — something the Rebels were completely unable to do last season.
In 2017, UNLV sacked the QB on just 3.30 percent of all pass plays. That ratio ranked last among Mountain West teams and 123rd in the nation (out of 130 teams).
Skipper said pressuring the quarterback will be a priority this season.
“The No. 1 objective is to get the ball back, right? And as soon as that ball is snapped, the quarterback has it. So he has it, we need to take it. However we do it, whether we’re pressuring, we’re bringing three guys at him, we’re bringing four guys at him, whatever we’re doing, we need the ball. So as long as that quarterback has it, there has to be sharks in the water coming after him and attacking.”
If the Rebels are able to do that with any consistency in 2018, Skipper will have produced some game tape worth watching.