REBELS FOOTBALL:

UNLV can’t overcome special teams mishaps at Utah

Rebels lose Mountain West Conference opener to Utes, 38-10

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AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

UNLV safety Mike Grant (25) is unable to stop Utah running back Eddie Wide (36) as he scores a touchdown in the 4th quarter of an NCAA college football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah defeated UNLV 38-10.

UNLV vs. Utah Football

Utah runningback Eddie Wide (36) gets past UNLV defenders for a touchdown in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Launch slideshow »

SALT LAKE CITY — For being the first road trip in the new era of UNLV football, the result felt all too familiar.

The Rebels fell to No. 20 Utah and dropped their eighth straight at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where they have never won. It was the 16th straight year UNLV has lost its conference road opener.

Utah 38, UNLV 10.

“Utah is better than us,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “We made too many mistakes to come in and win on the road.”

Most of those mistakes were made on special teams. Every time UNLV appeared to grab momentum or a chance to get back in the game, a special teams miscue derailed it.

UNLV fumbled on a punt return deep in its own territory, allowed a 77-yard punt return touchdown, snapped the ball over the punter’s head and committed a holding penalty to wipe out a 90-yard kick return.

“I thought we had plenty of opportunities throughout the game,” junior wide receiver Michael Johnson said. “We just didn’t take advantage of them. We made turnovers and didn’t capitalize on them. They capitalized on our mistakes. That’s how you got the outcome.”

The Rebels looked every bit as good as the Utes in the first half. Senior quarterback Omar Clayton, who earned the start over junior Mike Clausen, directed the offense up and down the field for 150 total yards.

With 40 seconds to go, UNLV had more yards than Utah and trailed only 10-3. That’s when redshirt freshman Sidney Hodge fielded a punt, tried a couple of moves and ended up fumbling at the 20-yard line.

Utah jumped on the loose ball and scored the next play when quarterback Terrance Cain, who finished with 207 yards and two touchdowns, found Jereme Brooks in the end zone to take a 17-3 lead.

“We just had that one little mishap at the end of the half,” Johnson said. “That kind of turned the tide for them.”

Hauck, who was visibly frustrated after the game and kept all his comments short, scoffed at the notion that it was the turning point of the game.

“Seventeen-three is nothing insurmountable,” he said.

But the Utah lead only got larger after halftime, when Cain hit junior receiver Shaky Smithson for a 55-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage.

UNLV answered two minutes later when junior Nate Carter blocked a Utah punt that walk-on freshman and Cimarron-Memorial graduate Tim Hasson scooped up for an 18-yard touchdown to make the score 24-10.

It looked like the spark the Rebels needed until Smithson ended those thoughts with a 77-yard punt return touchdown a few minutes later.

“That was the game-changer in this game,” said senior linebacker Starr Fuimaono, a member of the punt unit that gave up the touchdown. “We gave up seven points and it was in a critical time. We thought we were making a comeback and we let a big play like that break out.”

Smithson’s return drew the loudest response of the day from the 45,102 fans at Rice-Eccles. After fielding the kick, Smithson stopped dead in his tracks and confused all five of the Rebels closing in on him.

He was able to juke away from all of them and take it down the sideline with his breeze-inducing speed.

“I think we all just lost where they set up their wall,” Fuimaono said.

Utah’s final touchdown came when Las Vegas native Eddie Wide, who went to Cimarron-Memorial, ran up the middle for 13 yards. UNLV gave Utah the prime field position after long snapper Billy Paddack snapped the ball too high for punter Brendon Lamers to pull down.

“We’ve got to hang on to the ball; we’ve got to tackle; we’ve got to not snap it over the punter’s head,” Hauck said.

“It was bad.”

UNLV’s offense did show signs of improvement. Clayton finished with 217 yards on 18-for-37 passing. Johnson recorded seven receptions for 94 yards.

But the Rebels offense could never find the end zone. The game ended appropriately with a botched fake field goal attempt on the one-yard line by the Rebels.

“That’s the game,” Clayton said. “Special teams gave up some plays and the offense didn’t put the ball in the end zone.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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  1. As a former Rebel lineman who played back in the better days of Rebel football '79-82, I see how far down this program is right now. It is much like past years where things simply implode on the Rebels. Back in the day, we were the ones that seemed to get all the breaks and we rarely made the types of mental errors that are killing this team right now. We played Utah in Sam Boyd in '79 and won on a last second field goal. The score was something like 48-45. We never ever quit!

    The one thing that I was really hoping to see with the new coach was the elimination of key mistakes that can turn games around quickly. The stupid penalties & the lack of fundamentals with tackling simply drive me up the wall! This team needs to start at football 101 and get the basics down first. I am sure the Coach sees this. We also have a serious lack of athletes that we have to deal with now but I firmly think that Coach will get the right type of player in here.

    I am excited about Coach Hauck and think he will turn this thing around and I honestly think at some point this season that this team will win a big game and then the tide will start to turn. It will take some time, especially considering this very difficult schedule, but we will surprise someone.

    Too bad we did not "dumb down" our schedule like Nebraska.

  2. Isn't there a "special" bus for our special teams.

    Has our punter ever kicked in a game or is this OJT?

  3. Keep changing things, it will work, can't wait to see the stats!

  4. If I have to hear or say "maybe next year" one more time, I'm going to flip.

    Let's get a W next game against Idaho, which just lost to Nebraska (rebelheart).

  5. As I said in an earlier article about this game, the improvement is definitely there in several aspects. But this will be an ugly year. It almost always is with a first year head coach, especially with a program that was in need of a culture change like this one.

  6. i know the punting isn't good, but if you're going to blame people don't just blame the punter. the longsnapper is doing no one any favors

  7. The team actually played fairly well offensively and defensively...marked improvement from last week on both sides of the ball. The final score unfortunately didnt reflect that.Plus we gotta remember...we've played two solid top 20 teams. This aint Sac St. We gotta finish drives though! Take away the special teams miscues and its a totally different game and Willingham knew it...he was seriously worried that we controlled the ball for so long in the 1st half and said so. The special teams are coached by Hauck...so those plays are on him...which is why he was so pissed and probably why he went for the fake fg to prop up that horrific (besides the punt block) special teams performance. Its like we semi plugged the off & def holes but then the special teams leak...we're still a work in progress...but I'd still say it was progress nonetheless. Gotta snag the W this week!!

  8. If you want to get better, you play the best teams. UNLV is a cupcake team to schedule at the moment, but hope our guys learn from these games. A few wins won't hurt though.

  9. @ rebelheart - - - good stuff man GO REBS!!!