Dean Hare / AP
Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010 | 2:30 a.m.
MOSCOW, Idaho — It was expected to be the game where UNLV had a golden opportunity to break through under first-year coach Bobby Hauck, but instead, a trip to face upstart Idaho turned out to be the Rebels' biggest nightmare to date.
The Vandals soundly and consistently knocked the Rebels around for the first 30 minutes and made the second half all but moot, dropping their visitors on Saturday night at the Kibbie Dome, 30-7.
"Pretty disastrous," Hauck said of UNLV's first-half showing. "To beat these people that we're playing, we have to play better, and we're not playing well enough to win right now.
"I'm a bit surprised. I thought we'd play better than we did tonight, and we just didn't."
Idaho (2-1) made it clear from the coin toss — yes, the coin toss — that it wanted to do nothing more than put pressure on UNLV (0-3) with scoreboard intimidation. After winning the toss, the Vandals made the intriguing decision to receive the opening kick rather than defer to the second half.
What ensued was a textbook 14-play, 69-yard drive that included four first downs and a gutsy call to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Rebels' 1-yard line.
The gamble paid off, as Deonte' Jackson dove over a pile of linemen and scored the first of his two touchdowns. It sent the crowd of 15,390 into an outright frenzy, and the atmosphere pretty much stayed that way for a while.
"It was a long drive. They converted several third downs then went for it on fourth down and made it by a minimal margin. That just sort of built on itself," Hauck said.
It didn't really stop building until late in the first half and, by then, the Rebels found themselves trailing 24-0 and unable to get anything going offensively.
At the half, UNLV had only registered 64 yards of total offense and four first downs, while Idaho had piled up 274 and 16, respectively.
The Rebels' secondary found itself in yet another compromising position, too, as there was no consistent pass rush while the Vandals were building their lead.
Senior quarterback Nathan Enderle, who last week in a 38-17 loss at Nebraska played arguably the worst game of his career with five interceptions to his credit, looked more and more comfortable as the game progressed. Confident that he had plenty of time to throw every time he dropped back, he was 12-of-21 for 196 yards, one touchdown and one pick in the first half.
"They kept moving the ball on us, kept beating us both ways in the first half, running and passing," senior safety Alex De Giacomo said. "I think the biggest thing we did was make too many mental mistakes, myself included."
The Rebels showed some life in the second half, holding Idaho to only a pair of field goals after the break and finally reaching the end zone in the closing minutes behind redshirt freshman quarterback Caleb Herring.
Herring entered the game in the third quarter, making his collegiate debut by replacing the struggling Omar Clayton.
Clayton was just 3-of-8 for 42 yards through the air and was sacked three times. Herring was sacked thrice, as well, as the Vandals never let up on defense and blitzed until the bitter end, seemingly on a quest to send a message.
Counting moral victories against the likes of Wisconsin and Utah is one thing, but they were almost impossible to award against an opponent that UNLV figured to be pretty even with on paper.
In the end, the Rebels were still very much where they started in two critical areas.
They currently rank 97th in the nation in third down defense, as opponents have converted 17 of 37 tries on them in three games. Idaho was 6-of-13 on the night, but an outstanding 4-of-6 in the first half while the offense was clicking.
Meanwhile the run game still is struggling to get off of the ground. Without it, it's tough for Hauck's plan for a balanced offense to be executed properly.
Junior C.J. Cox did not dress out on Saturday night, and senior Channing Trotter made some nice runs late to finish with a team-high 60 yards on 15 carries, but after Saturday night's loss, UNLV is 108th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks in rushing offense, averaging just 91 yards per game the old-fashioned way.
On a rainy, chilly night in rural Idaho, however, there was a bit of light on the horizon for UNLV, as they'll now prepare to welcome New Mexico to Sam Boyd Stadium next Saturday night.
While the Rebels have struggled out of the gates, the Lobos have been flat-out awful, especially on defense. They have surrendered a mind-blowing 60 points per game in their three losses, including 72 in an opening-night loss to Oregon.
Despite heading home winless, the Rebels will likely be favored next weekend, and if the oddsmakers are right, it could provide Hauck's team with a shot of confidence that at this point is much-needed.
"We're 0-3, and you aren't going to be real confident at 0-3, that's for sure," he said. "We've got to go back to work. There is no magic. We've got to go back to work and get better. That's as simple as it can be."
Linemen Isaako Aaitui and B.J. Bell each recorded sacks in the second half, which were the first two quarterback takedowns this season for the Rebels ... Junior Mike Clausen's switch from quarterback to safety appears to be official, as he saw time both on defense and kick coverage on Saturday night, recording one tackle ... Thanks to two long completions to Phillip Payne on the team's final drive, Caleb Herring's stat line ended up looking OK: 4-of-7, 86 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. His interception in the fourth quarter was the first thrown this season by a UNLV quarterback.