unlv run defense - unlv football 3-3-5 Stack for 2020
Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites – Franchise Sports Media

Rebel Breakdown: The UNLV Run Defense



In the Mountain West, to be successful as a team, one must be able to play solid defense, especially against the run. Over the last three years, however, the UNLV run defense has been subpar, to say the least.


Photo Credit: UNLV

In a conference that sports several teams with exceptional rushing attacks such as San Diego St., Boise St., New Mexico, and Air force, UNLV has to show it can stop the run. A below-average rush defense cannot be tolerated if UNLV and new defensive coordinator Peter Hansen want to create a dominant defensive culture in Las Vegas.

Last year, the UNLV defense gave up an average of 186.8 yards per game, with a margin of 5.2 yards per carry and 2.3 TD’s per game –statistics that shine a light on a weakness that the team has to solve. However, this is where the experience of coach Peter Hansen comes into play. 

In an earlier article that I wrote, I outlined that UNLV would be changing its base defense from a four-man front to a three-man front, specifically a 3-3 stack. The article detailed how UNLV had skill in the three inside linebacker positions with Farrell Hester II, Vic Viramontes, Malakai Salu, and Kyle Beaudry. The Rebels also have highly-touted incoming freshman linebacker Brennan Scott who will be in the mix as well. 



Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites Franchise Sports Media

But any three-man defense, (more broadly– any defense of any kind) needs dominant interior linemen. In this defense, UNLV will need a big, physical, powerful, and athletic nose tackle. The defensive line will allow the linebackers to flow to the ball or rush the passer.

UNLV nose tackle, Kolo Uasike, is a player similar to outstanding linemen such as Haloti Ngata, Vince Wilfork, and Pat Williams. The defense needs a lineman that can dominate the line from the center to the outside shoulder of the offensive guard on either side, command double teams, and free up linebackers to make plays. Still, the nose tackle has to make plays down the line and in the backfield.


These kinds of lineman make offensive coordinators have to account for them in the scheme as an undeniable threat to the run. 


Photo Credit: UNLV

In this new defense, a lineman like this can change the whole season for this team. For this new defense to work effectively, UNLV will need several linemen that can hold down the nose tackle position. The player to watch is Uasike, the senior defensive lineman who stands 6’0 tall and weighs in at 305 lbs. Kolo can more than hold down that position and make an impact. He is a disruptive force and a player that teams have to scheme for every week. 

After playing all 12 games last season—earning a starting position and 26 tackles total–Uasike is the Rebels’ best returning defensive lineman. Uasike’s cousin, junior nose tackle Chris Manoa, was listed as the No.2 spot for the nose tackle position in the spring after playing in eight games last season earning two tackles. Manoa has the size (6’0/335 lbs) and the ability to be a problem for opposing offenses; he just has to put it together.

But they are also adding gifted and athletic interior players to the mix, like TCU transfer Adam Plant Jr. and one of last year’s prized recruits, City College of San Francisco’s Tavai Tuitasi, who missed last season with a torn ACL. The explosive pass rusher, Tuitasi, is expected to play the weakside defensive end position and be a key to creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks. Another player to keep a close eye on is Nate Neal, who has the potential to be a force against the run and rush the passer entering his senior season. 


The nose tackle has to play from head up over the guard to an alignment outside the offensive tackle which is also necessary to help force the offense into uncomfortable blocking positions. 


Overall, the next era of UNLV football under new head coach Marcus Arroyo and his staff will be the same as almost every other coach in school history; they need to find a way to fix the defensive front so they can control the running game. With the school opening up the campus once again so athletes can come back, the issues with the running game will be addressed very soon on the field and not just in Zoom meetings. 

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-Jaron Turner – Franchise Sports Media

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