Who has the edge? UNLV Edition Part II
LARAMIE — People like to say that the game of football is not played on paper.
They are right. But it’s still fun to look.
Today, we will breakdown the defenses of the UNLV Rebels and Wyoming Cowboys. The two squads will meet Saturday at 6 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in both team's Mountain West Conference opener.
So, who has the edge on defense?
Let’s break it down real quick.
UNLV's front four has exactly zero of the Rebels five sacks through the first three games of the season. Two of the four are returning starters, nose tackle, Kolo Uasike, and defensive end, Gabe McCoy. Those two have combined for just 10 tackles on the season. That is not the kind of pressure UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez had in mind. The other two linemen are juniors, Nick Dehdashtian and Tavis Malakius. That duo has four tackles. Not ideal. The Rebels give up 179.5 yards per game on the ground. Wyoming's potent rushing attack should be licking its collective lips after seeing that stat.
Wyoming's line was supposed to be the weak link of the defense, right? Losing Ravontae Holt was supposed to really be the nail in the coffin. Instead, this group is tied for fourth in the nation in sacks with 18 and matches that numbers when it comes to being one of the top run-stopping teams in the country, allowing just 85 per game. Solomon Byrd has really come on as of late after suffering an ankle injury that limited him in the first two games. Over the last eight quarters, Byrd has 3.5 sacks, which is good enough for the team lead. Garrett Crall has three sacks, and Javaree Jackson, Mario Mora and Victor Jackson each have 1.5 from the defensive tackle position. Defensive end, Josiah Hall has 2.5 sacks to his name. In other words, there guys are good. Really good. Look for them to be all over Armani Rogers Saturday night. The UNLV line has given up 11 sacks through three game.
Rayshad Jackson is UNLV's leading tackler with 24 on the season. He has also picked up half a sack and has three pass deflections. The senior from Miami had 11 stops against Northwestern to lead the Rebels two Saturdays ago. Farrell Hester II is also a tackling machine for UNLV, racking up 18 stops, and Javin White, the Rebels lone returning starter in the linebacking corps, has 14 tackles and an interception already this season. That's UNLV's only pick this season. These guys have been dynamic at times, but that can be credited to an underachieving defensive line that has failed to make stops. The linebackers own some responsibility for the poor run defense through three games.
On the flip side, give Wyoming's linebackers plenty of credit for a ferocious run defense that has turned teams one dimensional on offense through four weeks. Logan Wilson is the leading tackler with 41, and young Chad Muma is creeping up the list with 23. Both also have been credited with a sack. Cassh Maluia has half a sack, 14 tackles and picked off Missouri's Kelly Bryant in the end zone in the opener. Even Ben Wisdorf has got in on the action this season, forcing a goal-line fumble in that Mizzou tilt. The Cowboys linebackers have been busy in underneath pass coverage. That needs to improve or the inflated numbers will just continue to grow.
The Rebels' secondary won't be confused with the 2014 Seattle Seahawks anytime soon, allowing 248 passing yards per game, which is 87th in the nation. UNLV gives up plenty of yards, but the real issue is the lack of takeaways. They have zero through three games. Two of which were against Southern Utah and Arkansas State. Not exactly the Oklahoma Sooners. The Rebels took a big hit in the secondary this week, losing safety Drew Tejchman to a season-ending knee injury. He had 15 tackles in the early going. UNLV strong safety Evan Austrie is the real deal. he leads the team with 24 tackles, a sack and a pass deflection. Jericho Flowers is also a stud at corner. This season, he has 17 tackles, a sack and three pass breakups. UNLV has plenty of experience on the back end, but so far, they haven't been the dominant group most thought they could be in 2019. Losing Tejchman doesn't help matters much.
If Wyoming's defense has an Achilles heel, look no further. The Cowboys are ranked 126th out of 130 FBS teams in passing yards allowed, averaging 345.3 per game. Azizi Hearn and Antonio Hull found themselves in hot water with the law this week. It is unclear whether they will play as of Friday afternoon. There has been no indication from the school that they will be suspended. Hull, a senior corner, has not played since the Mizzou game. He went back to California to deal with what the team is calling "personal issues." He was dressed in Tulsa but never saw the field. If Hearn is out, look for freshman Jordan Murry to see plenty of action at the corner spot. Tyler Hall has been all that was advertised in the preseason, breaking up two passes and picking off one for a touchdown at Texas State. He also has 13 tackles. Early in the week, he was in concussion protocol after taking a violent hit on a kickoff return in Oklahoma. He will be a "game-time decision." Alijah Halliburton is coming off his second 17-tackle performance of the season, and nickel back, Keyon Blankenbaker has been a tackling machine out of the Pokes secondary. If the Cowboys ever had a shot to contain a passing attack, this is the week to do it. With a relentless pass rush, they should get plenty of opportunities to make plays against a run-heavy UNLV attack.
Daniel Gutierrez has attempted just two field goals this season, making one from 27 yards out and missing another from 36. He is 12-for-12 on extra points. Rebels punter, Hayes Hicken, has had a solid season. The Utah transfer is averaging better than 40 yards per punt. UNLV has a dynamic kick returner in Tyleek Collins. In six attempts at Northwestern, Collins averaged 20.2 yards per return. Look for Wyoming to stay away from him in the kicking game.
For only the second time in his career, Cooper Rothe had a field goal blocked at Tulsa. It certainly wasn't his fault, but in hindsight, that three points is still looming pretty large, huh? Rothe is 6-for-10 on field-goal attempts this season and has a long of 47. Ryan Galovich punted the ball eight times in Oklahoma, averaging 43.6 per boot. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, he was never able to land the big boomer that flipped the field. All afternoon, Tulsa was starting near midfield while the Pokes seemed to have their backs to the goal line. That will have to change Saturday night. Hall had a nice 36-yard kick return that put the Cowboys in business late in the fourth quarter. Austin Conway is slippery and can take one to the house at any time. UNLV knows that best. In 2016, Conway cut through the Rebels return team for a 60-yard score in Las Vegas.