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Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 | 2 a.m.
You’ve heard of a “bend don’t break” defense? Well, through the first two weeks of the shortened 2020 season, the UNLV defense is simply breaking.
Instead of death by a thousand cuts, the scarlet and gray has preferred to get things over with quickly, as opposing teams are notching big plays at an alarming pace. UNLV has already allowed two dozen “chunk plays” this season, leading to a defense that currently ranks 100th in the nation in scoring (35.5 points per game allowed).
For our purposes, a chunk play is defined as a pass play that gains 20 yards or more, or a run play that gains 10 yards or more. Those types of gains should be rare, but UNLV opponents have been feasting regularly in just that fashion. San Diego State recorded 12 such plays in the season opener, and UNR notched another 12 last week in prying the Fremont Cannon away with a 37-19 beatdown at Allegiant Stadium.
That should sound alarm bells as UNLV prepares to face Fresno State today, as the Bulldogs’ offense is more than capable of picking up yards by the bundle.
UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said UNLV has to tighten up on defense and not give away huge swaths of yardage so generously.
“That’s definitely something we’re trying to solve each week,” Arroyo said. “Obviously you’ve got to limit the explosive plays.”
UNLV is allowing 7.1 yards per play, which ranks 125th out of 130 teams nationally.
UNR notched six rushing plays that went for more than 10 yards against UNLV, but the bigger issue was quarterback Carson Strong’s six downfield completions. Strong connected on throws of 36, 52 and 65 yards and finished with six completions of longer than 20 yards. UNLV cornerbacks Nohl Williams and Sir Oliver Everett were both beaten in single coverage for monster gains (52 yards and a 65-yard touchdown, respectively).
Both Williams and Everett are freshmen, underscoring the challenges facing the UNLV defense as the season goes on.
Arroyo believes the youth of the defense will eventually end up being a feature, not a bug.
“The defense itself is a young group,” Arroyo said. “With the true freshmen, they’re being battle tested, which is awesome. We’re trying to find ways and pieces for them to continue to gain confidence and put them in situations where they can compete.”