UNLV FOOTBALL NOTES: Defense set the tone, offense responds in win over Chippewas

Posted: September 18, 2013 in NCAAF
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Frank Crawford registered his first interception as a Rebel last week.

Frank Crawford, a transfer from Ole Miss, registered his first interception as a Rebel last week.

By W.G. Ramirez

Last season the UNLV Rebels finished with the 98th-ranked defense overall.

After waking up in time to defeat Central Michigan last week, with a 31-0 run after falling behind 21-0 at the 7:02 mark of the second quarter, the Rebels’ defense improved to 66th in the nation.

Though it didn’t look like it against Arizona two weeks ago, in an embarrassing 58-13 loss in the home opener, the defense has arguably been the lone thing coach Bobby Hauck has been able to count on. Albeit, the rushing defense was torched by Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey for 171 yards and two touchdowns in his much-anticipated return, the stop unit has shown heart for the most part over the first quarter of the season.

“I don’t think our major issue is defense right now, compared to where we’ve been,” Hauck said at his weekly press conference. “We’ve got a ways to go before we can say we’re gonna win completely on the defensive side of the ball. … I like how we’re playing on defense; I think we can stop people. I think we tackle well. I think we have a lot of enthusiasm on that side of the ball, they like to play (and) it shows.”

It certainly showed against CMU, as Hauck’s stop unit stymied the Chippewas after they scored on three of their first five possessions to take a three-touchdown lead on the Rebels, and had fans in attendance wondering why they didn’t spend $75 to watch Floyd Mayweather defeat Canelo Alvarez.

Central Michigan punted on its last possession of the first half, and then saw its second-half possession go as follows: punt, punt, punt, interception, interception and turnover on downs.

“We just fueled each other; we’d get a stop and they’d come out and score (then) we’d get another stop,” senior DB Tim Hasson said. “It was just going back and forth and we got them going, and they got us going.

“I feel like if we play like that second half team, which we’re capable of playing a full game, I feel like we can compete with anybody. That’s how we need to continue to play week-in, week-out.”

Next up are the Western Illinois Leathernecks, who are 2-1 on the season after trouncing Hampton and Quincy, then losing at Minnesota, the same place the Rebels lost their season-opener.

“We’re fired up to play Western Illinois, they’re a good tough football team,” Hauck said. “We need to attack this week again like we did a week ago, and find a way to win on Saturday.”

‘THEY WILL COMPETE” – Despite the inept play of quarterback Nick Sherry and the stunning emergence of Caleb Herring, there is still a quarterback competition at Rebel Park, and an assessment will be made on game day by Hauck and his staff, in terms of who will start for the Rebels.

“We’ll compete it, both of those guys excel when they’re competing during the week,” Hauck said “We’ll go into it like we did last week, where we’ll compete it during the week. I would anticipate both of them will play some.”

Sherry, who set a school record for completions in a game against Minnesota, was benched after showing ineffectiveness in leading the offense on Saturday, when he threw his fifth interception of the season on UNLV’s first possession. Meanwhile, Herring produced a statement-like game by completing 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. His completion percentage of 85.7 broke a school record (80.8) set by Randall Cunningham in 1984 against Idaho State. Herring’s effort earned him Mountain West offensive player of the week honors.

Nonetheless, the job is up for grabs, and you don’t have to ask Hauck twice about it.

Anytime you have two guys you feel can play, it’s a benefit to the team,” Hauck said. “At different times both have had success. … It’s nice to have guys who can do that. Now what we need to do is, in that position, like every other position on the team, we need to have consistency.”

UNLV NOTES – Running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence – dubbed “Shaq-Mu” – is averaging 17.6 yards per rush thanks to his big production in the season-opener against Minnesota, in which he rushed for 108 yards on just four carries. “Shaq-Mu” ranks seventh in the Mountain West with 70.3 yards per game. … Wide receiver Devante Davis’ per-game average of 100.3 yards leads the Mountain West and ranks 24th nationally. He has officially been added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. Davis, who hauled in three TDs last Saturday, leads the Rebels with 17 receptions for 301 yards and five touchdowns. … Running back Tim Cornett entered the season as the leading active FBS running back with 11 career 100-yard rushing games, but has yet to top the century mark in three games this season. He did have his best game of the season last week, rushing for 94 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown. He needs 4 65 yards to become the leading rusher in UNLV history. … Defensive back Frank Crawford, who transferred from Ole Miss this season, recorded his second career interception (first as a Rebel) against Central Michigan. … Punter Logan Yunker, a graduate of Arbor View High School in Northwest Las Vegas, came into the game ranked 17th in the nation in punting average, finished the game with a 48.6-yard average on five attempts against CMU. His average of 46 yards per punt now ranks 7th in the nation. … Palo Verde-product Sidney Hodge has presumably finished his career at UNLV after “getting his shoulder fixed,” as the pain had become unbearable. He’ll graduate in December and is headed into the service, and Hauck said he doesn’t see the senior using a medical redshirt. … In Hodge’s absence, safety Peni Vea stepped up to record six solo tackles, two pass breakups and grabbed his first career interception last Saturday.

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