The physical makeup of UNLV's defense is the exact opposite of NAU's defense. Where the Lumberjacks were extremely light along the defensive line, the Rebels return an experienced and productive defensive line.
It will be imperative for the Arizona offensive line to continue to improve because UNLV depends on the defensive line to apply consistent pressure on the quarterback.
The line is anchored by 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive tackle Mark Garrick. Garrick had a tackle for loss in the opener and led UNLV with nine last year. He will need to step it up against Arizona in order to help contain the UA running attack.
The other defensive tackle spot is more of a question mark, with the Rebels looking for a contribution from either 6-foot-2, 285-pound Alex Klorman or 6-foot-3, 295-pound Alex Gaston. Neither really did much in the opener, with Gason finishing with two tackles.
Sonny Sanitoa will get the start at one of the defensive end positions and had a tackle for loss against Minnesota. He was really the only defensive end to produce against the Gophers, which is just one of the concerns on the defensive line.
In addition to those concerns, there are some for the UNLV linebacker corps as well. Senior Tani Maka is a physical, experienced playmaker that may be familiar to Arizona fans. He took an official to Tucson and wound up signing with UCLA, but now finds him at UNLV. Maka finished with 70 tackles last season, which was good for third on the team.
Senior Tim Hasson is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker who is also the team's returning tackler. Hasson took off from where he finished last season, totaling six tackles against Minnesota. He is able to play sound football, but also is not the type to be aggressive towards the line.
The UNLV defense backs were exceptional in their first game, holding Minnesota to under 100 yard passing. The performance doesn't appear to be a fluke as UNLV returns multiple players with starting experience, including Ole Miss transfer Frank Crawford. Crawford was all over the field in the first game and don't expect that to change this week.
Junior Tahj Hasson had UNLV's only interception in the opener and started eight games last season. Hasson is the Rebels' best corner, although Sidney Hodge had two pass break ups against Minnesota.
It will be interesting to see how Arizona attacks Hodge, as he is only 5-foot-8, but makes up for it with how physical he is.
Strong safety Peni Vea led UNLV with nine tackles in the opener, but that may not necessarily be a good thing. Often when a safety leads the team in tackles, it is because the opposing running back got through the first two lines of defense.
Players to Watch
#93 DL Sonny Sanitoa: Despite missing a handful of games last season, the 6-foot-3 260 pound lineman showed glimpses of becoming a playmaking pass-rusher and will be counted on to approach double-digits sacks this season.
#41 LB Tani Maka: The 250 pound linebacker accumulated 70 tackles last season along with a handful of tackles for loss. Maka will be counted on to be one of the leaders of the defense.
#29 CB Tajh Hasson: One of UNLV's most talented defensive players, Hasson will be expected to blanket the opposing receiver. He figures to have a chance to make some plays if Arizona opens up the passing game.
Keys to the Game
1. Continue to Run the Ball: In the first game of the season, Arizona used its mammoth size difference to gash the NAU defensive front. The Wildcats won't have that kind of size advantage against the Rebels.
2. Protect Denker: This might be the most important game of the inexperienced quarterback's career. UNLV is certainly far from a juggernaut, but the talent is there to get after Denker.
3. Attack the Secondary: NAU boasted a very talented secondary, but it was rendered useless because Arizona ran the ball at will. This figures to be a good game for Denker to get his feet wet, but it will be imperative that he not force the issue because the UNLV secondary will be looking to make some plays to help out its shaky offense.