2013 UNLV Preview - Defense

Posted May 22, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UNLV Rebel Defense

UNLV Rebels

Preview 2013 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: It's all relative, but the defense really did improve. Defensive coordinator Tim Hauck welcomes almost everyone back, and now it's time to take an even bigger step forward. Leading tackler John Lotuleilei is the only starter missing, but there are plenty of veterans ready to pick up the slack. The run defense struggled too much against the teams that could run, the secondary didn't stop the teams that could pass, and overall it was a fight to keep teams under 35 points, but the Rebels allowed almost eight fewer points per game. Again, there needs to be an improvement with all the youth and athleticism needing to translate into better production and bigger plays.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tim Hasson, 76
Sacks: Sonny Sanitoa, 5
Interceptions: Kenny Keys, Fred Wilson 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Tim Hasson
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman LB Tau Lotuleilei
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Peni Vea
Best pro prospect: Hasson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hasson, 2) DE Sonny Sanitoa, 3) FS Kenny Keys
Strength of the defense: Experience, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Takeaways, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

The entire defensive front four returns, and now it has to be stronger against the run and better at getting to the quarterback. It all starts on the inside with senior tackles Alex Klorman and Mark Garrick back. The 6-4, 280-pound Garrick came in from Sacramento City College late in the game, but he turned out to be a nice factor making 37 tackles with two sacks and nine tackles for loss. A dangerous interior playmaker, he's quick off the ball and disruptive, but he has to hold the line a bit better against the power blockers. At 6-2 and 285 pounds, Klorman is a bit smallish, but he's quick and experienced making 34 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss.

There should be a good rotation on the inside with 6-3, 290-pound senior Tyler Gaston returning after making 27 tackles with a sack. A beefed up former end, he can play inside or out, while 6-4, 270-pound junior Pingi Moli is a strong transfer from Mt. San Antonio College with good experience and power for his size.

6-3, 260-pound sophomore Sonny Sanitoa came through with a great year as a pure pass rusher, leading the way with five sacks and 28 tackles in just nine games. He missed the first four games of the season, but he came back roaring with three sacks in three games, but he was held in check until the season finale with two sacks against Hawaii. He's like a big outside linebacker with excellent closing ability. On the other side will once again be junior Jordan Sparkman, a tall, quick 6-6, 265-pound athlete who has to be far, far better at getting to the quarterback. The former tight end made 33 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss.

JUCO transfer Sieua Vaesau comes in from Diablo Valley College as a potential star on the outside, the 6-3, 250-pounder was a linebacker/tweener for the Vikings, and now he's going to be a specialist who'll get to the quarterback on a regular basis working in a rotation with Sanitoa. 6-5, 250-pound sophomore Jeremiah Valoaga came up big in his first season making 21 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. Tall, with room to add another ten pounds or so, he could push for a starting spot if Sparkman doesn't start getting behind the line.

Watch Out For … Efrem Clark. Arguably the best of all the JUCO transfer prospects for the defensive front, the 6-2, 275-pounder out of Trinity Valley CC is built like a tough tackle, but he's a pass rusher who can play anywhere on the line. Wind him up and watch him go.
Strength: Experience. All four starters are back along with more than enough experience among the reserves from the JUCO ranks to always be fresh. There's no excuse for this group to wear down.
Weakness: Stopping the run. Too many teams were able to power the ball in key spots. Playing Air Force, Nevada and New Mexico didn't help the stats, but Colorado State was able to run without a problem, too. There's enough size to be better.
Outlook: The line got better last season. While there were too many rushing yards allowed, and the pass rush was hit-or-miss, the front four started to emerge and grow as the season wore on. It's not going to be a brick wall, but it's a good-sized group that should do a nice job at times. It's the best line yet in the Bobby Hauck era.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Gone is leading tackler John Lotuleilei from the weakside, and now it'll be up to Tau Lotulelei to carry on the family tradition. The 6-1, 220-pound redshirt freshman has the range and has the athleticism, but he has to show the hitting ability his older brother possesses – John was a one-man wrecking crew at times.

Senior Tani Maka will man the middle after finishing third on the team with 70 tackles with two sacks and a pick. At 6-1 and 240 pounds he has great size and enough athleticism to play outside if he doesn't end up starting inside. While he's a good tackler, he makes too many plays down the field. He'll work in combination with senior Max Ehlert, a smaller, quicker option at 5-10 and 220 pounds. Fast and athletic, he has great range making 29 tackles with two tackles for loss.

Senior Tim Hasson beefed up a bit, but he's still only 215 pounds on a 6-2 frame. Still built like a safety, he might not be huge, but he's a tough tackler finishing second on the team with 76 stops with a sack, a pick and five tackles for loss. He'll work again on the strong side, while 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman Trent Langham will see plenty of action with the potential to be one of the team's top linebackers against the pass. A former high school wide receiver, he can move.

Watch Out For … D.J. Moffitt has the talent to step in and play right away. One of the team's top recruits, the 6-2, 210-pounder from California did a little bit of everything for De La Salle playing on both sides of the ball, and now he's going to become a dangerous outside linebacker.
Strength: Veterans. Lotuleilei might need some seasoning, but he's a ready-made hitter who should be able to shine in his brother's spot. Maka, Hasson and Ehlert are veterans who'll know what they're doing.
Weakness: Big plays. There isn't much of a pass rush from this group, and the plays against the pass are at a minimum. Turnover margin was a big problem for the Rebels, and that has to change from this crew.
Outlook: The linebackers made some steady improvements, but losing the older Lotuleilei is a problem. He was the tone-setter and the one everything worked around, and now it'll be up to Hasson and Maka to pick up the leadership slack as well as fill the statistical void.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

The secondary is full of options with most of the key players returning. Senior corner Sidney Hodge is back at one corner after making 60 stops with a pick and a team-leading eight broken up passes. At 5-8 and 180 pounds he's not all that big, but he can move and can stay with any receiver in the Mountain West. He'll be backed up by junior Kenneth Penny, a good veteran who made 34 tackles with for broken up passes, but he didn't come up with a pick. At 5-11 and 170 pounds he's a bit bigger than Hodge, and he has the wheels. He might be the team's fastest defensive back.

On the other side will once again be junior Tajh Hasson, a bigger option at 6-1 and 195 pounds with the hitting ability to move to safety without a problem. A star high school sprinter, he moves well and isn't afraid to get physical making 46 stops with one pick and five broken up passes. Rotating in will be Fred Wilson, a promising sophomore who came up with a nice first season making 18 tackles with two picks coming in back-to-back games against Nevada and Boise State. Able to play anywhere in the secondary and possibly see time as a nickel or dime defender, at 6-0 and 175 pounds he's not huge, but he can hit.

The combination of sophomores Kenny Keys and David Greene will work at free safety after each saw plenty of starting action last year. The 6-4, 185-pound Keys came up with 45 tackles with two interceptions, turning into a nice tackler making 11 stops against San Diego State and nine against both Air Force and Nevada. The 6-0, 195-pound Greene only make 11 tackles in his true freshman season, but he showed terrific upside as a possible strong safety.

Sophomore Peni Vea is a strong 6-1, 200-pound athlete who could work anywhere in the secondary. In his first season he came up with 52 tackles and three broken up passes in just eight games of work, but now he's fine and should be a statistical superstar at strong safety. With great range and skill, he'll be an all-star.

Watch Out For … Damon Collins, a ready-made corner from Diablo Valley College. The 5-9, 180-pounder is dangerous in the open field as a kick returner and with the ball in his hands off of picks, returning two interceptions for scores.
Strength: Speed and quickness. The coaching staff has gone hard after athletes for the secondary, and moving around to the ball isn't going to be a problem. The two-deep can run with anyone.
Weakness: Consistency. The defensive backfield had its moments, and it only allowed 19 touchdown passes, but it couldn't handle the teams that could actually throw. Louisiana Tech, Utah State, Washington State and Wyoming all fired at will. The Rebels came up with just nine picks.
Outlook: The secondary needed lots of work, but it's full of veterans and options now and should be a bit steadier if the pass rush can improve. The safety situation is solid and Hasson and Hodge are good ones at corner. Now it's time to come up with more picks and more big plays.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

The Rebels have enjoyed terrific production out of senior Nathan Kohorst who has connected on 29-of-39 field goals over the last three seasons including 12-of-14 last season. The two misses were chippies, and his longest shot came from just 43 yards out, but he has a great deep leg and can be tried out from anywhere.

The punting was fine but the coverage teams were lousy. Chase Lansford averaged 41.8 yards per try, but he put seven in the end zone. In comes sophomore Logan Yunker, a nice prospect with a good leg. Lansford put 17 kicks inside the 20, and if Yunker can do that and keep the average over 40 yards, he'll be fine.

Marcus Sullivan will handle the kickoff return duties after averaging a whopping 23.5 yards per try, but he only averaged six yards per punt return. Eric Tuiloma-Va'a will get the first look at the punt return gig.

Watch Out For … Yunker. The defense needs all the help it can get, and Yunker has to help out a punting game that had way too many issues. Field position might mean everything to the Rebels.
Strength: Kohorst. It's not like there were many chances to come through in the clutch, but the 30-yard miss against Northern Arizona turned out to be a killer in the 17-14 loss. Even so, he's one of the best kickers in the Mountain West with the ability to start doing far more from beyond 40.
Weakness: The return and coverage teams. It was a battle to see what was worse. The Rebels averaged just 6.1 yards per punt return, and allowed 12.6 yards per try with two scores. The kickoff returners combined to average just 19.2 yards per try while giving up 21.2 yards per attempt.
Outlook: Kohorst is good, but everything else needs lots of work and a big upgrade. UNLV isn't good enough to be so bad on special teams, and it has to start with the miserable coverage teams that have been a liability for the last several seasons.
Unit Rating: 5

- 2013 UNLV Preview | 2013 UNLV Offense
- 2013 UNLV Defense | 2013 UNLV Depth Chart