LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Austin Ajiake knows what’s coming Saturday. The UNLV senior linebacker says bring it on.
The Rebels’ opponent, North Texas, relies mostly on a rugged ground attack, grinding out an average of 237.7 yards in its first three games. The Mean Green (2-1), set to visit Allegiant Stadium for a noon kickoff, average 5.2 yards a rush.
“We know they are an experienced team, an experienced offense. “ Ajiake said. “They’re going to run the ball downhill. That’s kind of their identity … It’s going to be another test for us.”
The Rebels (1-1) have been pretty tough defending the run in their first two games, so something’s gotta give.
UNLV’s defense is limiting foes to an average of 71 yards and 2 yards per attempt. In its loss to Cal, a Pac-12 member, the Rebels allowed 92 yards on 32 attempts, an average of 2.9 yards. Stingy stuff.
“Making sure we stop the run, that’s where it kind of starts for us as a defense,” Ajiake said. “We call it the trenches, taking care of that first.”
The Mean Green won their opener, a Conference USA clash against Texas-El Paso 31-13, then split its two nonconference games, including a 48-10 whipping by Southern Methodist. North Texas is coming off a 59-27 rout of Texas Southern, another victory in which its offense was dominant.
Quarterback Austin Aune is 41-for-78 passing for 640 yards with a pair of interceptions and seven touchdowns. So it’s not as if the Mean Green are one-dimensional
But running backs, Ayo Adeyi and Oscar Adaway, seem to be the focus. Adeyi has 257 yards rushing on 37 carries, an average of 6.9 yards. Adaway has run for 225 yards on 43 carries, a 5.2 average.
“We kind of know what they’re going to bring,” said Ajiake, who also had high praise for the Mean Green offensive line. “It’s really about us.”
Rebels coach Marcus Arroyo again thinks his group is ready. He thought the same entering UNLV’s second game, a 20-14 loss to Cal. After that performance, though, he was encouraged – disappointed, too – by a loss. But Arroyo said, “There was a lot of really good stuff. We didn’t get pushed around. … It was good to see our line dominate in a lot of ways.”
The Rebels looked a bit overwhelmed in the first half against Cal, falling behind 17-3 at intermission. But the defense rallied, allowing just a field goal in the final two quarters.
The unit got excellent performances from several players, including Ajiake and junior defensive back Jerrae Williams.
Ajiake had two tackles for loss against Cal, and Williams provided energy with seven tackles overall, five unassisted, a tackle for a loss and an interception.
“He’s all over the field,” Arroyo said of Williams. “He plays multiple spots. You’ve seen him in the secondary at corner, at nickel, and he’ll drop back in the third level as well.
“He came off the sideline a couple of times and said ‘I’m going to make a play,’ and he did. … He’s a guy who’s infectious. … He’s a leader of our defense, and not so much by what he says but what he does.”
Arroyo said he was most encouraged by his team’s fight and resilience against Cal. Players remained positive after a slow start and poor first half, and the loss hurt deeply. In a news conference this week he said there was “a lot of disappointment in the locker room” after the loss and that it was “good to see.”
It showed how much players cared, he said.
“Right now there’s a lot of things I’m excited about,” Arroyo said.