UNLV Defensive football preview
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In this edition we shift the focus to the defensive side of the ball. While the offense gets most of the attention, it’s the defense that wins championships. Look no further than the national champions of the last six years.
While some of those most recent champions have had Heisman winners and explosive offenses, their defenses helped them win a national championship.
For any good defense it starts up front in the trenches. Junior defensive tackle Tyler Gaston will be the difference maker up front this season. Gaston is a Las Vegas native and can be a difference maker on the line.
With good quickness from prior time at defensive end, he has an array of skills that should help him wreak havoc in the backfield. Joining him on the line are junior college transfers James Boyd and sophomore Jordan Sparkman.
Both are converted offensive players, with Boyd being a highly recruited quarterback from Southern California that spent his first year as a quarterback at USC. After playing him at quarterback, Hauck decided to give him a chance on the defensive side of the ball on the final day of practice. While he didn’t know the defense, he was a disruptive force in the Scarlett and Grey game.
Sparkman is a converted tight end with good speed and size. Both guys should provide some pass rush, which UNLV desperately needs after only recording 14 sacks last year.
“The defensive line should be a lot more confident in trusting what they see this year,” Gaston said. “We should see a good amount of improvement across the line.”
The next line of defense is the line backing corps. They will be led by another former junior college transfer John Lotulelei. He’ll be paired with juniors Tani Maka and Tim Hasson.
Alongside them will be Princeton Jackson, who was a JUCO All-American and won a national championship alongside Heisman trophy-winner Cam Newton. The battle for the strong side linebacker position between Las
Vegas native Hasson and Jackson should be one of the better matchups in the fall.
While a lack of explosive plays came from this group last year, they’re one of the more seasoned and veteran groups on the team.
“The line backing group should see better numbers this year between the three starters,” Gaston said. “With all of them having significant game experience under their belts we should see them really shine this year.”
The final piece to the defense is the backs. This is noticeably the youngest group of players on the team, with only one returning starter in Las Vegas native Sidney Hodge. He is Hauck’s choice for the “Battle Born” player this year.
That distinction is a recent tradition in which one player wears the number 36 for the year. The number is to signify that Nevada was the 36th state to enter the union. After Hodge we have a collection of young players that some minor experience, but for the most part are very untested.
The key to being successful will depend on Hodge becoming a lockdown corner like former UNLV greats Eric Wright and Quinton Pointer. At the safety position Tajh Hasson is penciled in as the starter at strong safety, while red shirt freshman Peni Vea looks to be the starter at the free safety after being named scout team player of the year last year.
“The defensive back group is probably the best combination of young talented recruits that we have seen in a long time,” Gaston said. “While they are young there should be an improvement from last year as almost every position from safety to corner has a returner with some experience.”
One incoming freshman defensive back Prince Jeffery Hallion, also took the time to give me a quick break down on how he sees the defense performing.
“The era of a young and inexperienced rebel defense is over,” he said. “Although there is a lot of youth on the unit, they are battle tested and I wouldn’t expect many new faces on it.”
Hallion and the rest of the defense has the right idea in creating turnovers this year. If the team wants to be successful it has to win the turnover battle.
The entire defense must come together as a group if they want to help lead the Rebels to their first bowl appearance in over ten years.
As you read this the players are on their way to Ely to get ready for the kickoff less than a month away. Stay tuned for my as we close in closer to the August 30th kickoff.