Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 | 2 a.m.
PULLMAN, Wash. — There was no sugar-coating this one. No silver lining to to be excited about. On this Saturday afternoon, UNLV simply didn't show up.
The result was a brutal 59-7 defeat at the hands of Washington State, and afterward, the Rebels had no hesitation in admitting that they fell flat on their faces.
"We didn't expect to come out and perform the way we did, but at the same time, we have to come to a realization that we can't put all the work in that we did, make all the strides that we did and expect everything to fall into place on game day," sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring said. "We still have to give 100 percent effort, and today we didn't."
In hindsight, the game got away from UNLV (0-2) not very long after it began. Behind white-hot senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, Washington State (2-0) put together two impressive first quarter touchdown drives. Every time he dropped back to throw, not only was Lobbestael given all the time in the world to fire away due to the lack of an effective pass rush, but it seemed like every receiver he targeted had created significant space against his assigned defender.
The point where things really fell apart for the Rebels came late in the first quarter. UNLV was trailing 14-0 and faced a third-and-two from the WSU 41-yard line. Sophomore running back Bradley Randle was dropped for a two-yard loss and UNLV opted to punt on fourth-and-four. Five plays later, the Cougars had gone 81 yards in just 2:26 for a back-breaking score.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty much a blur.
Lobbestael, starting in place for injured junior standout Jeff Tuel, would finish the day 24-of-32 for 361 yards and five scores. Washington State piled up 610 total yards, with 471 coming through the air. They also totaled 32 first downs.
On the other side, Herring was just 11-of-20 for 60 yards, and the UNLV run game that was strong against Wisconsin mustered only 98 yards on 34 attempts, as the Rebels' young offensive line showed its age and experience this time around.
It took a 95-yard kickoff return from Tim Cornett with 5:29 left in the game for UNLV to avoid its first shutout loss since Oct. 31, 2009, at TCU.
"They looked like a competitive Pac-12 team and we looked like the team that everybody picked to finish at the bottom of the Mountain West," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said afterward. "It's not who we want to be, but that's who we looked like today.
"I didn't think they'd hang it on us like that today."
Now, the biggest lingering unknown is where UNLV goes from here.
Many expected the Rebels to at least be competitive and make a game of it in Pullman, but instead, it was a day in which UNLV took two steps backwards. The entire thing was reminiscent of blowout losses last season at Idaho and BYU — Games where Hauck thought his team had a chance to come in and have a fighting chance but instead left thoroughly beaten.
By doing so, they squandered a golden opportunity to build some momentum and even create a bit of buzz back in Las Vegas before returning home for their Sam Boyd Stadium opener next Saturday against Hawaii (1-1).
Local interest in the program is fading already, and the Rebels will have to make some sort of a statement soon to get some of it back, but it might be impossible for UNLV's beleaguered defense to do a complete 180-degree turn before next Saturday.
In their first two games, they've allowed 1,109 yards and 110 points. In the process, they've had a difficult time stopping the run and creating any kind of a consistent pass rush up front. Behind those guys, the secondary is fleeting, as opposing receivers are finding openings and shaking free of coverages far too easily.
They'll now have to welcome in a Hawaii team that put 59 points on the scoreboard against them in the 2010 season finale and still has plenty of firepower.
So far, the Rebels' coaching staff has already run several guys onto the field on defense to try and create a spark, but right now, nothing is working. It's appearing likely that correcting things on that side of the ball could be something Hauck and his assistants will have to put plenty of focus on continuously for the rest of the season.
As for the offense, they showed last week that the promise for some fireworks is there, but Saturday proved that if the offensive line is struggling, it's going to throw things off. After looking consistently cool in his first career start, Herring never looked comfortable in his second shot. Several of his throws were off-target and thrown under pressure, while the lack of a consistent run game kept things off-balance.
According to Herring, the Rebels' emotions might need some tweaking, too, heading into next weekend's debut in front of the home crowd.
"Intensity is something that we should have. Every football team should have it, no matter what the situation is. Teams that don't have it on any given day, they get beat, and that's what happened to us today."