In seven years at FCS Montana, Hauck lost a total of 17 games. In his first season in Las Vegas, Hauck's Running Rebels went 2-11, including a season-opening home defeat to the Badgers, and had problems all across the board. Offensively, UNLV scored just 18.4 points per game (110th in the nation) and gave up 39.7 points per game (116th in the nation) defensively, numbers that signaled problems in the trenches and the secondary. With UNLV returning only 12 starters and 37 freshmen, redshirts and transfers, it will have one of the youngest teams in the country.
It is a stark change from last season when defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson had a lot of veterans to work with and a group that had struggled against the majority of its competition. The Rebel defense gave up 40 points or more ten times during the '08 and ‘09 seasons and the coaching staff wanted to play a more physical style.
It didn't work against the physical Wisconsin, as the Badgers amassed 475 yards of total offense, getting 123 yards from Clay and another 78 yards from Ball while Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien was an efficient 14-of-19 passing for 197 yards. When the game was in reach, UW's defense was outstanding, limiting UNLV to just 106 yards of total offense through three quarters.
"We, as a team, need to fix some things, obviously," said Hauck after the game, whose team was outscored 24-0 in the third quarter. "After halftime, we made a couple of plays to get back in it. But they eventually pulled away. Frankly, when you have 15 plays in a half, which is what I think we had (in the first half), you don't have any rhythm on offense."
Although there are gaps to fill, there are bright spots for Rebels fans to hang their hat on.
With the effective Omar Clayton closing his productive career, sophomore Caleb Herring and junior college transfer Sean Riley will have a competitive battle for the starting job. Herring completed 50 percent of his 56 passes in but Riley was the only one in the spring game to throw a touchdown. Herring played with the first-team offense on Saturday, while Riley played with the second team. In the spring game, Herring finished 7-for-13 for 65 yards, and Riley finished 8-for-12 for 73 yards.
"When we can, we'll name a starter, when we think it's productive to do that," Hauck said after the spring game.
Whoever wins the starting job will be able to rely on Tim Cornett, the first freshman to lead the school in rushing yards when he ran for 546 yards last season, and senior receiver Phillip Payne, who averaged over 17.2 yards per catch. Hauck may also incorporate more of the pistol offense into the Rebels' running attack, hoping to make it more effective after UNLV averaged just 103.3 yards per game last season.
It would also help if the offensive line finds a rhythm but with losing three starters from a unit that gave up 36 sacks, Hauck needs progress in a hurry.
"Everybody else has got to keep coming," Hauck said.
While the front seven of the defense will be tested considering the 11-man unit has seven new faces, the secondary could improve in a hurry with cornerback Quinton Pointer returning from a knee injury and JUCO transfer Kenneth Spigner joining a group that already two promising talents in free safety Eric Tuiloma and corner Sidney Hodge.
Still, the weakness is the defensive line. After finishing 115th in the nation in sacks in 2008, the Rebels improved to 106th in 2009, but fell back to 115th in 2010. They were also 118th in tackles for loss. Guys like B.J. Bell and James Dunlap need to be healthy and the unit as a whole needs to be quicker and tougher.
Defensively, the Rebels will have 7 new starters in 2011.The backbone of the UNLV defense will be their cornerbacks, Sidney Hodge and Quinton Pointer. Hodge played in 9 games as a true freshman. Pointer will hopefully enter his senior year at full strength after missing all of 2010 with a knee injury. The pass efficiency defense was 117th in the nation and got beaten badly on a regular basis, and not having Pointer around was one of the biggest issues.
There's a chance the secondary could be much better in a big hurry, but the secondary was 117th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The Rebels run defense will be tested and the secondary will need to play out of its mind if the Rebels want to win six games, which is a huge long shot for a team that epitomizes the word ‘rebuilding' project.
It was reported that UNLV wanted out of its contract with Wisconsin so it wouldn't have to play this game. Can you blame them, especially since the program is the mist of converting from a spread attack back to a pro-style type offense? Maybe that's why Hauck is sticking with the game against Wisconsin, showing his team what kind of style and team they want to be.
In the words of Pete Fiutak: "UNLV will never get the players the Badgers do, but for a program that needs a jump-start and a change, it'll be interesting to see if Hauck can get the right offensive linemen who want to bowl over defensive fronts, and if he can get a defensive line that can hold up better than a soft marshmallow, to get the team he wants."
When these two teams met in the desert last season, Wisconsin won because of its running game – rushing for 278 rushing yards at 5.6 yards per carry – and turnovers, as Aaron Henry returned a fumble for a touchdown early in the third quarter that broke open a 17-14 nailbiter. If UW doesn't shoot itself in the foot, it should cruise in the opener, showing the Rebels and a national audience just how good they are.
Overall Record: UW leads 7-2-0
Record in Madison: UW leads 3-1-0
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won, 41-21, in Las Vegas in 2010