AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
SAN DIEGO — Another slow start on the road, another blowout loss.
It's been a common theme for the UNLV football team when away from Sam Boyd Stadium this season under first-year coach Bobby Hauck. Following a 48-14 drubbing at the hands of San Diego State on Saturday night, the outlook for next weekend's season finale at high-powered Hawaii only looks gloomier.
"Really, there's not much to say other than that San Diego State, with about a little over two minutes left in the first half, it was 17-7, we had the ball going in and had generated some momentum," Hauck said. "And they just flat took the game from us."
The Rebels (2-10 overall, 2-6 Mountain West) have been plagued by opponents putting them in early holes in road games this season, and Saturday night was no different.
The Aztecs (8-4, 5-3) needed only five plays after UNLV's opening drive ended in a three-and-out to score, doing so on a 17-yard screen pass play from Ryan Lindley to running back Brandon Sullivan.
The small window of opportunity for UNLV to crawl back into the game began to open late in the first quarter, when after a 42-yard Abel Perez field goal that made it a 17-0 game, Marcus Sullivan ran the Aztecs' kickoff back 73 yards. A play later, on the final snap of the first quarter, Omar Clayton hit Kyle Watkins for a 27-yard touchdown.
The Rebels followed that up by buckling down defensively, as Mike Grant broke up a pass play on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line, giving UNLV a chance to put together a drive of its own.
After that trek down the field was stopped near midfield, the Aztecs, as they have so many times this season, broke the game open in a flash.
In the final 2:26 of the first half, Lindley would hit DeMarco Sampson for 41- and 50-yard scores. Just like that, the game was blown wide open at the half, with the eventual outcome hardly in question.
"(SDSU coach Brady Hoke) and his staff are awfully good at what they do, and they did a good job of taking the game away right there, and just flat putting us up against it going into halftime," Hauck added.
UNLV's offense had plenty of issues, yes. The unit averaged only 2.4 yards per carry on 28 run plays and was only 3-of-12 on third down attempts.
But the defense was clearly overmatched by SDSU's quick-strike offense that features a junior quarterback in Lindley and two senior receivers (Sampson and Vincent Brown) who will more than likely be suiting up on Sundays down the road.
Lindley was 22-of-30 for 338 yards, four touchdowns and no picks.
He didn't face much pressure the entire night, while the offensive line was also strong in the run game. Redshirt freshman running back Ronnie Hillman was sprung free for 152 yards and a late score on 19 carries.
As for Brown and Sampson, in their final home game, they combined for 11 catches, 202 yards and three TDs.
"Those guys did a nice job of winning on the ball," Hauck said. "They're good. Maybe the best in our league."
The win capped what has been nothing short of a remarkable turnaround for the San Diego State program in only two years under Hoke.
The Aztecs, who in 2008 spoiled the Rebels' bowl hopes in the regular season finale and finished 2-10, set a school record with five Mountain West wins and will likely play in front of their home fans next month in the Poinsettia Bowl. The eight wins for SDSU marked the most for the program in a single season since also winning eight in 1996.
Hoke might not be around much longer, either, as his name is being thrown around heavily regarding the vacant Minnesota job. Still, even if he goes, the program will be in great shape for whoever next assumes the position.
Meanwhile, the Rebels have allowed an average of 43.8 points this season in six road games. Next weekend, they'll take on 9-3 Hawaii, who has the nation's top passing offense. The Warriors average 384.83 yards per game through the air.
"We get another chance to play well on the road next week," Hauck said. "One more chance to not look like a team that's getting run over on the road."
— UNLV defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a left ankle injury. The bulky 6-foot-6 senior, who will likely have a shot in the NFL next season, was in sweats and on a crutch in the second half.
— Marcus Sullivan continued to be a bright spot for UNLV during a mostly dismal season. The speedy freshman had six kick returns for 224 yards, including the aforementioned 73-yarder and a 62-yard jaunt to open the game. He now ranks sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season with a 29.96-yard average.
— Other numbers of note for UNLV ... Junior receiver Phillip Payne had his best overall showing since returning from a mid-season suspension, posting 91 yards on five catches ... Freshman cornerback Sidney Hodge got the start on Saturday night, and led the Rebels with 10 tackles. The Palo Verde grad also had a forced fumble and a pass break-up ... Clayton was 13-of-28 for 167 yards and a TD with no interceptions, but was under heavy pressure for much of the night ... UNLV's second score came with 1:07 left in the game, when converted quarterback Mike Clausen ran a fumble back 64 yards for his first career defensive score.