Through five games, Vanderbilt has faced five teams with varying degrees of good defenses. Even Northern Illinois had some fight on that side of the ball.
UNLV... is not that team.
Five games into the season, UNLV ranks 118th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 37.4 points per game. Even better, the Rebels have only faced one Power 5 team to date — and ironically, that game, against Northwestern, represented their best defensive performance against an FBS team, “holding” the Wildcats to just 30 points. Meanwhile, Arkansas State scored 43, Wyoming scored 53, and Boise State scored 38. Even FCS Southern Utah managed 21 points on this defense; granted, 14 of those were in the fourth quarter after UNLV went up 56-7.
More importantly, UNLV has been vulnerable both to passing attacks (Boise State threw for 325 yards) and rushing attacks (Wyoming ran for 374, and averaged 7.8 yards per carry.) That latter fact puts UNLV’s season-long 5.3 yards per carry number in context: when a team is really committed to running the ball on UNLV, they can do it.
(We’ll note here that Vanderbilt’s defense has also allowed 37.4 ppg, and actually has allowed more yards per play — 7.6 to UNLV’s 6.4. Of course, Vanderbilt has faced better offenses than UNLV.)
To the extent that there’s a “star” here, 6’3”, 205-pound DB/LB Javin White has the team’s lone interception on the season and a team-leading five tackles for loss, while playing what I imagine is a similar role to Oren Burke at Vanderbilt a couple of years ago. DB Even Austrie is the team’s leading tackler, followed by a pair of LB’s (Florida grad transfer Rayshad Jackson and Farrell Hester II.) The most damning part for this defense is that three of those four are seniors, and Hester is a junior, so UNLV doesn’t even have inexperience as an excuse.
If Vanderbilt is having trouble moving the ball and scoring points on UNLV, its problems are even deeper than we imagined, because this defense is not good.