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Rebels’ emphasis on stopping the run paying dividends

A point of emphasis all offseason for UNLV’s defense was being effective at stopping the run. Through their first two games, that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The Rebels have held both Idaho State (50 yards) and California (92) to under 100 yards per game. They rank 13th in the country by allowing just 1.9 yards per carry.

UNLV’s run defense will be put to the test at noon Saturday against Conference USA opponent North Texas, who’s averaged 237.7 rushing yards per game through three games.

With a new defense under new defensive coordinator Keith Heyward, the Rebels believe having a top run defense is essential to having an improved defense.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on as a defense.” fifth-year senior linebacker Austin Ajiake said. “One of our keys to victory every week is to be able to stop the run. Our philosophy is that we believe it starts up front.”

Along with Heyward, the Rebels also brought in Bojay Filimoeatu as their defensive line coach in March. Both were tasked with improving a defense that allowed 32.8 points per game last season and 4.5 rushing yards per carry.

Arroyo has been impressed with the play from his defensive line and linebackers. He sees the “violence” they are playing with translating from the practice field into the games.

Much of that comes from the depth Arroyo and his staff have developed entering his third season. He said it starts at practice with the rotations they’ve established between the starters and second team, and holding the second unit to the same standard as the starters.

“A lot of it is holding guys accountable when they’re going with the twos and not turning a blind eye when they are in,” Arroyo said. “Everyone out there gets coached the same. Those guys get it. They’re coached hard as anybody.”

What Ajiake has been most impressed with is that depth producing during games.

Entering Friday, the Rebels are tied for third in the nation with nine sacks. Senior defensive end Adam Plant Jr. has two, and seven other players each have one.

Ajiake said that Saturday’s game against North Texas will be a test for the defense to see how much improvement they’ve made. So far, with the depth and production, he’s confident they have the players in place to continue their production.

“It shows that everyone is fully capable and the scheme we are running is working,” he said.

In what could be another close game on Saturday, Arroyo said he wants his team to be able to finish when they have the opportunity.

“It’s not just counter punches, not just rhythm, you need a knockout punch,” Arroyo said. “Now you need to know how to knock them out when you have the chance. That’s what we’re doing and learning.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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