Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech dissect UNLV's fourth consecutive loss, this time a 35-15 defeat at the hands of Utah. The guys look at why the defense wasn't to blame for this one, and what's on the horizon for two programs apparently headed in different directions for the rest of the 2009 season.
- Opponent: New Mexico
- Date: Oct. 24, 5 p.m.
- Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
Well, you can't say the defense was to blame for this one.
But, as has been the case almost all along for the 2009 UNLV football team, if it's not one thing, it's always something else.
This time, inefficiency in the red zone and a couple of key blown offensive opportunities helped lead to a 35-15 victory for No. 24 Utah over the now 2-5 Rebels on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.
"Offensively, it's kind of rough on us, because we feel like we didn't do our job," junior running back Channing Trotter said. "They give us opportunities, and we just didn't do the best that we could with the ball in our hands. Just because this one was closer and we did have a chance to win, I think it makes it a lot harder (than the last two losses)."
But for much of Saturday's homecoming tilt, the Utes were far from prolific on the offensive side of the ball, which has been a theme for the defending Mountain West Conference champs on the road all season.
In fact, Utah's John Peel fumbled the ball away on the team's first offensive snap, but that would start a string of instances in which UNLV's team didn't take advantage of the opening to the fullest.
After getting the ball to the Utes' three-yard line on that possession, the Rebels wound up settling for the first of three Kyle Watson field goals.
In all, UNLV went 4-of-6 in scoring points on trips inside of Utah's 20-yard line. But only one of those six opportunities resulted in a touchdown.
Of the two empty-handed results, the one which most will remember was a botched fake field goal try with UNLV trailing 28-15 late in the third quarter.
On the play, holder Ben Jaekle rolled to the right and fluttered a pass which found no one. It appeared as though the original plan was for Jaekle to throw a short shovel pass on the attempt, but UNLV coach Mike Sanford did not go into specifics afterward.
"Yes, it was designed," he said. "But it wasn't executed properly, and I'm not going to go into detail on what happened, because we might want to use it again."
Poor execution was a theme for both offenses at the end of the day.
Even though Utah found a way to produce four offensive touchdowns, Kyle Whittingham's club needed a defensive spark to create the necessary separation on the scoreboard late in the first half.
With UNLV trailing late in the second quarter, junior quarterback Omar Clayton threw the first of two interceptions when he lofted a pass down the center of the field to Michael Johnson, who was in the middle of three Utah defenders.
Safety Robert Johnson came down with his fifth interception of the year, taking the ball back to the UNLV eight-yard line, where Utah's offense only needed two plays to score from there.
Then, after the Utes grabbed a 21-6 edge, Clayton was picked again in Utah territory, this time by defensive lineman Christian Cox. Just seconds later, Cox fumbled the ball right into Johnson's hands, and he took it 64 yards down the sideline to put Utah up 28-6 at the half.
Despite that mess late in the first half, UNLV still got back to within 13 points, but wouldn't get any closer.
Utah's five fumbles — two of which UNLV recovered — were masked at the end of the day by late efficiency on offense and the ability to capitalize on each Rebels mistake.
Junior quarterback Terrance Cain finished with 174 yards on 17-of-24 passing with two TD tosses. He also ran for 22 yards and another score.
Carrying much of the load for the Utes was Cimarron-Memorial product Eddie Wide, who ran for 100-plus yards for the third consecutive game. He had 111 yards and a back-breaking 37-yard second half touchdown jaunt on just 17 carries.
For UNLV, Clayton was 23-of-44 in the face of constant blitzes, throwing for 223 yards and the aforementioned two picks.
Trotter, who went relatively unused in the Rebels' past two games, had 17 total touches, picking up 73 yards.
Both teams had 327 yards of total offense, but the UNLV defense hardly took solace in just improving. The lack of results on the scoreboard were what stuck with everyone.
"If one out of three phases of the game works, then we're not going to win the game," junior defensive end Malo Taumua said. "There's times when the offense is clicking, the defense is doing nothing, the special teams is alright, and vice versa. We just need all three phases of the game clicking and we'll be good."
While there's no shame in losing to Utah, who at 5-1 is still prominent in the Mountain West title race, next weekend will be a totally different story.
UNLV, sole owner of the nation's longest road losing streak in conference games with 20, heads to Albuquerque to face New Mexico, which is the league's lone winless program and arguably one of the most futile teams this season in the FBS ranks.
The Lobos have only played one of their six opponents this season to within fewer than 20 points, have been ravaged by injuries and will be without first-year head coach Mike Locksley, who will be wrapping up a 10-day suspension following an alleged altercation with one of his assistant coaches.
Still, UNLV is in no position to take anyone lightly.
"We've got to get a win no matter who it's against," Trotter said. "At this point in the season, it's just getting very very tiring to see us lose. No matter who we play, we absolutely have to win this next game."