Friday, Nov. 25, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Sputtering to the finish line with a three-game losing streak and an overall 2-8 record, it doesn’t appear the UNLV football team has much to play for Saturday night when it hosts San Diego State at Sam Boyd Stadium.
After all, there will probably be more UNLV fans in the stands at the Orleans Arena on Saturday night to watch Dave Rice’s undefeated Runnin’ Rebels in action than at Sam Boyd, especially if UNLV’s basketball team is matched up with No. 1 North Carolina in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational.
But Rebels football coach Bobby Hauck believes there is still plenty of incentive for his squad heading into its home finale.
“We’ve got a lot to play for,” Hauck said. “Our seniors are playing their final game at home. We have a chance to have a winning record in our stadium, and we’ll be ready to play.”
UNLV, which is 2-2 at Sam Boyd Stadium this year, will honor its 16 seniors on the field before the game.
“Certainly it is a big night for them,” Hauck said. “They’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of work, and our team will want to send them out winners.”
The 16-member senior class is highlighted by a pair of Las Vegas prep products — wide receiver Phillip Payne (Western High), the school record-holder for touchdown receptions (26), and linebacker Nate Carter (Las Vegas), a two-time Special Teams Player of the Year who leads the team in tackles this season with 70.
“Obviously, it’s a big night for all of us seniors here,” Carter said. “We’re just looking to get a win, and we’re going to work this week and try and make it happen.”
Starting left tackle Brett Boyko, one of three freshmen starters on the offensive line, said sending the seniors out with a victory in their final home game “is always important.
“We have a good relationship with a lot of seniors on the team, and we all look up to them,” Boyko said. “They’re all leaders in the locker room and on the field. We want to do our best to send them out with a win.”
It won’t be easy.
San Diego State (6-4, 3-3) features a backfield with a pair of future NFL players in explosive running back Ronnie Hillman, who ranks fifth nationally in rushing with 1,286 yards on 226 carries (5.7 avg.) and 13 touchdowns, and quarterback Ryan Lindley, who threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns in the Aztecs’ 48-14 victory over the Rebels last year at Qualcomm Stadium.
Hillman would figure to be the bigger problem for UNLV, which ranks 96th nationally in rush defense, allowing an average of 190.5 yards per game, including 394 yards against Air Force last Saturday in a 45-17 loss.
“He gets tough yards but he’s a guy who can go to the house on any play,” Hauck said. “I think he has a 99-yarder and a bunch of (other) long runs. He makes the ordinary spectacular.”
REBELS NOTES: San Diego State leads the all-time series, 12-8, and has won seven of the last nine meetings...Former UNLV head coach Jeff Horton (1994-98) is in his first year as assistant head coach/running backs coach for the Aztecs...Hauck is sticking with sophomore Caleb Herring as his starter at quarterback, despite the fact he struggled (6-of-14, 41 yards, 1 interception) in last week’s loss at Air Force. “Caleb Herring is doing a really nice job of managing the game,” Hauck said. “He’s getting us into the right checks. He’s doing a lot of things right. The part that we need to improve on and get better on is from the time that the ball is snapped to the execution of it.”...Former UNLV basketball announcer Ken Korach, now a broadcaster with the Oakland A’s, is announcing Saturday’s game on 920 AM. Jon Sandler, who normally handles Rebels football radio broadcasts, will do the Runnin’ Rebels basketball game that night instead...The Rebels conclude their season on Dec. 3 at TCU.