MORGANTOWN - There is a case to be made that the UNLV defense that West Virginia will face Saturday is at least better than the one the Rebels fielded a year ago.
It's not a very good case, though.
Sure, UNLV ranked No. 115 (out of 120 teams) in total defense last season, and that has improved to No. 86 through five games in 2010. The Rebels were No. 112 against the run a year ago and are up to No. 106 this season. As for the bottom line, scoring, well, that's pretty much the same. UNLV gave up 32.4 points per game in 2009 and 32.6 so far in 2010.
But the reality is that the Rebels just aren't very good at stopping teams, at least good teams.
Take unbeaten and No. 21 Nevada, which rang up 374 rushing yards at UNLV last week and 516 total yards in a 44-26 win. The most telling statistic from that game, though, is this one: Nevada was never forced to punt. Of the Wolf Pack's 10 possessions, six ended in touchdowns, one with a field goal, one by an interception, another on a fumble at the UNLV 6 and the last was at the final horn.
The bottom line is that while the Rebels (1-4) might be able to cause West Virginia (3-1) some problems when the teams meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Mountaineer Field, it is unlikely that UNLV successfully defending West Virginia's multiple offense will be an issue.
Even Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart seems willing to admit that.
Shying away from laudatory coachspeak for just a brief instant this week, Stewart said he likes the way the Mountaineers' offense stacks up against the UNLV defense.
For instance, on UNLV's chances of covering his stable of wide receivers:
"I feel good because it's hard to run clear across the field with Bradley Starks or Tavon [Austin] or Jock Sanders if you [play man-to-man],'' Stewart said. "We run some nice crossing routes. If they can [stay with those receivers] they're going to beat us. I don't think they can do that, but that's what we're going to see.''