Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Notebook: Victory sweet for UNLV’s Polynesian contingent
- Box score: UNLV 34, Hawaii 33
- Comin’ up clutch: UNLV prevails late to edge Hawaii, 34-33
- Hawaii defense gives UNLV credit for pivotal drive
- Defense does just enough in UNLV victory
- Instant analysis: What goes around, comes around
- UNLV-Hawaii fan photos
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech break down the circus that was UNLV's 34-33 victory over Hawaii on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, take a look at how the win resurrects the Rebels following the heartbreak of a week ago and also take a look ahead to next week's trip to Wyoming.
- Opponent: Wyoming
- Date: Sept. 26, 12 p.m. PST
- Where: Laramie, Wyo.
- TV: None
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
This one is on Mike Sanford.
And that’s a good thing.
During the opening minutes of Saturday night’s game against Hawaii, they flashed a graphic on the TV screen that said Sanford was 2-37 as the UNLV head football coach.
At times during the past five years it might have seemed like that. But the Rebels have never been that bad under Sanford. (The graphic shorted him 10 wins. With Saturday’s win, Sanford improved to 13-37.) Oh, they’ve been bad at times, lots of times, and when they have, Sanford has by and large shouldered responsibility for it.
That’s why this one — the Rebels’ thrilling 34-33 victory over a decent Hawaii team in front of a big crowd (for UNLV anyway) of 29,717 at Sam Boyd Stadium — is on him.
If it is part of a head coach’s job description to accept blame for failure, then it follows he should receive credit for success. This is especially true when you make a halftime adjustment like the one Sanford came up with on Saturday with the Rebels on the verge of being run off the field turf by the Islanders and their hulking quarterback, Greg Alexander.
UNLV trailed only 20-14, but it was much worse than that. The Rebels had elected to match fire with fire, or at least pass with forward pass, and nearly got Hawaii Five-O’d. In reality, they got Hawaii 341’d, which was the number of yards Alexander passed for in the first half.
Alexander attempted 34 passes. The Rebels didn’t get to him once. It was easier than taking candy from a baby. It was like taking a mai tai from a drunken tourist at a luau. Alexander was turning the UNLV secondary into tiny bubbles and UNLV did not have the resources to stop him.
That much must have been apparent to Sanford, too. So at halftime, he MacGyvered a way for the Rebels to contain Hawaii and not only be successful, but also win.
He might have noticed that the Warriors appeared a little soft in the defensive line. So rather than have Omar Clayton continue to throw down field into double- and triple-coverage that resulted in two first-half interceptions, the Rebels started mixing in running plays with those passes. A lot of running plays.
The Rebels took the second half kickoff and marched — or at least trudged — 67 yards in 16 plays. It took them nearly nine minutes to trudge that far, only to miss a field goal. It was like watching paint dry — in Cleveland.
That was by design. Not missing the field goal, but holding the ball for nearly nine minutes. Sanford said the defense needed a rest. What Sanford didn’t say is that the Rebels needed to keep Alexander off the field. On this night, that would be the only way to prevent him from hanging pineapple slices all over the secondary.
Hawaii possessed the football for only 2:09 of the third quarter.
The Warriors ran only four offensive plays.
The UNLV defense rested.
It even put some pressure on Alexander, sacking him twice in the second half.
With the Rebels having reverted to two dimensions on offense, it kept the Hawaii defense honest. The Warriors weren’t able to gang up on the UNLV receivers quite as much. Clayton made smarter choices, which is easier to do when you are throwing passes to underneath guys in single coverage. After a spotty first half, Clayton was outstanding in the second. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 221 yards for two scores and was not intercepted.
It was Clayton who directed the game-winning 14-play, 67-yard drive. It was Clayton who found his favorite receiver in clutch situations, Phillip Payne, on a fade pass in the corner of the end zone with 36 seconds remaining. It was Clayton and Payne who received much of the credit in the aftermath of the crucial victory, after which Gatorade flowed in the dressing room.
Not that many people wanted to talk about halftime adjustments, and when they did, Sanford deflected the praise toward his offensive and defensive coordinators and the other assistants.
You could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. It was a few minutes before midnight — these 8 p.m. starts combined with 91 forward passes and a like number of TV timeouts would be like sitting through “Ishtar” if the endings weren’t so darn exciting — and Sanford seemed disappointed the radio guys wanted to sign off.
He said he loved talking about football, about winning, and that the Rebels would be doing a lot more of that this year.
Only this time, it sounded different.
This time, it sounded legit.
This time, that’s on him.