Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011 | 2 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a closer look at this weekend's UNLV home opener at Sam Boyd Stadium, as the struggling Rebels defense will hardly have a soft landing from its two tough road trips, welcoming in the always prolific Hawaii Warriors for a Saturday night showdown. Does UNLV have a chance? What type of result would be considered a success?
After allowing 729 yards combined through the air to its first two opponents of the 2011 season, it's probably an understatement to say UNLV's third foe will be an unwelcome visitor at Sam Boyd Stadium this Saturday.
The Rebels (0-2) will play host to future Mountain West mate Hawaii (1-1) in their home opener, which kicks off at 7 p.m.
After two weeks, UNLV currently ranks 118th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in both total defense and passing defense. Hawaii, though it's not quite clicking on all cylinders yet, will likely try to test the Rebels through the air for the majority of the evening.
"This is not the cure for what an ailing secondary is looking for," Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. "Not at all."
Though Hawaii lost several of its top offensive weapons after last season, the same guy is running the show — senior quarterback Bryant Moniz. He threw for a ridiculous 5,040 yards in 2010, leading the Warriors to a 10-4 finish.
In Hawaii's first two games, he's completed 65.4 percent of his passes and has already thrown the ball 78 times, but the Warriors are not running the ball as well as they did a year ago, which is helping opposing defenses adjust some. After averaging 2.8 touchdown passes per game a year ago, Moniz has only thrown two so far this season.
On the other side, UNLV has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 40 of 53 pass attempts so far and has yet to intercept a throw.
At his Monday press conference, Hauck said that most of the secondary's struggles come down to guys simply not making plays on the ball. A lot of that could be stemming from inexperience, as the Rebels are lacking in that department in the secondary behind senior corners Quinton Pointer and Will Chandler.
But there's more to it than just that.
The lack of a consistent pass rush has put more pressure on UNLV's young defensive backs.
With how bad the defense looked last Saturday, it's unknown how much ground can be made up before Saturday night, but Hauck knows that the best the staff can do is to keep working with the youngsters as much as possible.
Hauck said he will be more involved, too, in the day-to-day work with the defensive backs, given his background in that department. He coached safeties at Colorado in 1998 and Washington from 1999-2001, then switched to coach all defensive backs for the Huskies in 2002 before moving on to be the head coach at Montana.
"(Defensive backs coach J.D. Williams) has got a lot of guys with no experience back there in the secondary," Hauck said. "In theory, I've got some expertise, I need to help him out. He's trying to coach four positions, I need to get in there and help him out."
'The process' continues for Herring
Sophomore Caleb Herring's second career start — Saturday's 59-7 loss at Washington State — was not quite as stellar as his first.
He went just 11-of-20 for 60 yards in Pullman, Wash., spending much of the afternoon under pressure from the Cougars' defensive front. The Rebels' young offensive line was not nearly as sharp as it was nine days earlier at Wisconsin.
Still, Herring has yet to commit a turnover in his two starts, despite coming close with a potential interception falling through the hands of a Washington State defensive back during Saturday's first half.
The coaching staff let Herring play from start to finish in each game so far, too, instead of giving some reps to junior Sean Reilly once the games got out of hand. That will likely remain the case.
"We probably had a chance last week to play Sean Reilly a little bit, and at Wisconsin as well — We discussed it a little bit," Hauck said. "But the fact of the matter is we have a young quarterback, and the more game reps he gets, the better he's going to be, so we just stayed with it."
Trying to stay positive
Saturday's blowout loss in a game that many figured UNLV could be competitive in deflated the local fan base some, and likely killed off a good amount of the buzz that existed heading into the home opener.
Internally, the Rebels are trying not to let things snowball in the wrong direction after getting whipped twice to open up the season.
"The attitude is definitely there that it's not the same team, it's not going to be the same old thing," Herring said. "We're right on the edge of doing some good things, but we just have to be ready to make those plays and make those things happen when the opportunity presents itself."
Updates on academic-related absences
Regarding sophomore receiver/kick returner Marcus Sullivan and junior safety Dre Crawford, Hauck said there are no updates yet on their academic standings. Both have missed the last two games while waiting to be cleared.
The lone update Hauck could provide on Monday was a bit cloudy, but the situation regarding junior receiver/punt returner Eric Johnson sounds bleak.
"Right now, Eric Johnson doesn't look promising, which is a shame," Hauck said. "That's somewhat unexpected."
He was listed as a backup receiver and the starting punt returner on the first depth chart out of fall camp, and Hauck said that even if Johnson doesn't get cleared, he expects him to stick around and likely redshirt.
Hawaii getting acclimated
The Warriors suffered a 40-32 loss at Washington on Saturday afternoon, but did not return to the islands afterwards. They're in Las Vegas this week, living out of a hotel while both training and practicing out at Bishop Gorman.