The second game of the year for UCLA initially looked like a much easier game. That changed when UNLV hired new head coach Tony Sanchez. While Sanchez tended to focus more on the offensive side of the ball in his previous positions, the fact that UNLV has a new head coach and new coaching staff makes preparing for them much tougher because there isn't a lot of history and game film to guide preparations.
We heard this from the coaches at various points this week.
But, I'm not going to let that stop me from previewing the Rebels' defense for you.
Overall, the team plays a 4-3 defense scheme and is led by defensive coordinator Kent Baer. Let's look at the position groups.
The defensive line is anchored by senior Sonny Sanitoa. Sanitoa is the team's active sack leader with 10.5 including one last week at Northern Illinois. Last week, Sanitoa recorded three tackles including one TFL. The other defensive end is Mark Finau, a sophomore transfer from LA Valley College, who recorded only one tackle last week, but it was a tackle for loss. He had 16 tackles last year at LA Valley.
The Bruins will likely see a rotation of three players in the two defensive tackle positions. The Rebel rotation at DT will feature Senituli Fakauho, Dominic Baldwin and Mike Hughes Jr. The trio combined for six tackles against NIU.
In the Rebels' 4-3 scheme, they'll have a strongside linebacker (aka Sam), a weakside linebacker (aka Will) and a middle linebacker (aka Mike).
The Sam LB is sophomore Matt Lea from Fresno. Lea had 52 tackles last season and 4 last week against NIU. Mike LB Ryan McAleenan had 70 tackles a year ago and led the linebackers last week with 6. Meanwhile, Will LB Tau Lotulelei led UNLV in tackles last season with 100 including 10.5 TFLs and 3 sacks. He was one of three Rebels to have a sack last week.
CB Tory McTyer (6-0, 180, JR-2L) 21 Darius Mouton (5-10, 165, FR-HS) SS 42 Peni Vea (6-1, 205, SR-3L) 11 Troy Hawthorne (6-3, 210, JR-2L) FS 2 Blake Richmond (6-3, 205, SR-1L) -or- 44 Kenny Keys (6-4, 200, SR-3L) CB 24 Fred Wilson (6-0, 180, SR-3L) 1 Jay’Onn Myles (5-8, 165, JR-TR) (NICK) 21 Darius Mouton (5-10, 165, FR-HS)
The dean of the Rebel secondary is senior safety Peni Vea who led the team last week 9 tackles and tied the team lead with one sack. Vea was named to Phil Steele's First Team All-Mountain West team this season. He had 88 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks last season.
Free safety Blake Richmond was second on the team in tackles last week with 8, but he only had 33 tackles all of last season. He may prove to be the Rebels most improved defender.
The Rebels either have some depth at corner or they may be trying to find the best guys as Tory McTyer, Darius Mouton, Fred Wilson and Jay'Onn Myles all saw time against NIU and each one made at least a couple of tackles.
Most of the Rebels' defensive backs have good size. All the starters are at least 6'0. With that in mind, Bruin QB Josh Rosen will need to make sure he puts the ball where only his receivers can catch it.
Overall, I think the Rebels may be weakest against the run. They gave up 185 yards last week to NIU and it's possible that the UCLA offensive line could plow the way for Paul Perkins to have a big day, especially if the team takes an early lead.
Rosen should also be able to throw the ball well against them. They allowed over 350 yards passing against NIU. So, I expect that trend to continue.