REBELS FOOTBALL:

UNLV changes course, shocks Hawaii in home opener, 40-20

A week after the 2011 season appeared dead, Rebels shine on both sides of the ball in stunning blowout

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Sam Morris

UNLV running back Tim Cornett finds running room against Hawaii during the second half of UNLV’s home opener Saturday, September 17, 2011. UNLV upset Hawaii 40-20 for their first win of the season.

UNLV vs. Hawaii Football

UNLV's Bradley Randle is chased down by  Hawaii's Corey Paredes during the first half of UNLV's home opener Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Launch slideshow »

UNLV wins home opener against Hawaii, 40-20

KSNV coverage of UNLV victory over favored Hawaii in Rebels' home opener, Sept. 17, 2011.

Fans - UNLV vs. Hawaii

Scenes from tailgating before the UNLV vs. Hawaii football game Saturday, September 17, 2011. Launch slideshow »

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Just as a more publicized fourth-round knockout was taking place across town at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the UNLV football team was unexpectedly dealing one of its own.

A week after one of the most lopsided losses in program history, the Rebels flipped the script on a Hawaii team that was favored by nearly three touchdowns and pulled off a stunning 40-20 upset in their home opener at Sam Boyd Stadium.

It couldn't have possibly been more opposite from what played out a week ago in a 59-7 thumping at Washington State. The defense was nothing shy of forceful and, at times, simply dominant. They generated a pass rush, handed out big hits, didn't miss assignments and forced turnovers. On offense, the line was again creating consistent push, setting the table for a strong run game that then allowed sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring to make big plays with his arm.

In other words, it was hardly what anyone outside of the program expected, but just what UNLV (1-2) needed.

"Initially, we were lower than low a week ago, and we should have been," Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. "I'm excited for our team. I'm happy that our guys kind of fought back from the abyss last week. They went to work, came out, played extremely well and we beat a good football team."

Of the 21,248 people in the stands, about half were UNLV fans. And almost every single one of them would have accepted simply a competitive effort from the Rebels after all signs a week ago pointed to this being another building year in the difficult transition into Hauck's tenure.

The tone was set right away. In the first quarter alone, UNLV created a turnover on special teams, and the same defense that allowed five touchdowns a week ago before forcing Washington State to punt for the first time induced two Hawaii punts.

The momentum, though, really began to build with two minutes left in the opening stanza, when sophomore tailback Tim Cornett took a handoff and shot off of the left tackle, then flat-out ran away from three Hawaii defenders en route to an 80-yard score, giving UNLV a shocking 10-0 lead and a belief that it could legitimately pull this off.

Hawaii found itself still down 10 at the half, but UNLV immediately seized momentum out of the locker room when the Warriors fumbled away the second-half kickoff and scored 10 seconds later. Phillip Payne made a sensational catch on a 33-yard pass play, in which he snatched the ball over two Hawaii defenders at the goal line.

The rest of the night was pretty much a blur.

Offensively, Herring had an outstanding bounce-back effort, going 17-of-29 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was known going into this game that to be successful, getting Payne involved in the offense again would be key. In turn, Payne caught seven passes for 98 yards and two scores, giving him five touchdowns in three career games against Hawaii.

On the ground, behind an offensive line that blew Hawaii's strong defensive front off of the ball on almost every snap, Cornett and fellow sophomore Bradley Randle combined for 184 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.

But the defensive performance was something else.

After giving up 1,109 yards of total offense in their first two games, the front seven feasted on a Hawaii run game that has struggled all year. The Rebels allowed only six yards on the ground, which is the third fewest given up in a game in program history.

Hawaii senior quarterback Bryant Moniz completed 20 of 36 passes for 233 yards and two scores, but he coughed up a costly fumble early in the second half and was pressured constantly and made regularly uncomfortable by a UNLV defense that was as active as it has been at any point under Hauck and his staff.

"From watching film against Washington and other teams, they had him rattled, and we knew if we had pressure on him how he'd react," said senior defensive end Matt Kravetz, who had a hand in one of UNLV's three sacks. "We jumped on him and it all went from there.

"Our secondary had a tremendous night and that's what helped the line get a lot of pressure, some sacks, tackles (for loss), and they just did a great job tonight coming off of last week."

UNLV forced four turnovers in all, had eight tackles for loss and played with a swagger on the defensive side of the ball that was not even close to being seen in the first two games.

How successful the Rebels are moving forward from Saturday's shocker doesn't necessarily depend on them producing those exact numbers each week on defense, but simply playing the same brand of assignment-sound football. When that happens, so do the turnovers and big, momentum-changing plays.

If they can keep it up, the schedule moving forward in what seven days ago appeared to be a dead season lays out pretty favorably.

Next Saturday, UNLV will host Football Championship Subdivision foe Southern Utah, which is 2-1 and averaging 36 points per game but has yet to take on a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.

After that comes a bye week, then a trip up north to face rival Nevada-Reno. The Wolf Pack is enduring struggles of its own in the post-Colin Kaepernick Era. Chris Ault's club barely escaped San Jose State with a 17-14 victory earlier on Saturday and was thoroughly punished a week ago at Oregon.

It's not like anyone will be necessarily talking about UNLV rebounding now to win six games and securing its first postseason berth since 2000 following just one win, but it was at least a change to see signs of life just a week removed from one of the darkest Saturday's in the program's recent history.

As Hauck exited the field as fired up as can be, doling out hugs to Athletic Director Jim Livengood and his teenage daughter, among others, one mantra was both yelled by him and at him: "Build off of this."

"There's a lot of football teams that would have cashed their chips in after what happened last week," he said. "We went on the road, played two good BCS conference teams, got whipped, game back here and whipped a good team. So I'm fired up for our guys."

Notes

UNLV has now defeated Hawaii in four of the last five meetings between the two at Sam Boyd Stadium. Next season, Hawaii joins the Mountain West for football only ... Payne's two touchdown catches make him now second on UNLV's career TD reception list with 22. He's two behind Henry Bailey, who had 24 from 1991-94. Payne also now has 1,916 career receiving yards, which ranks 10th in program history ... Nolan Kohorst's 40-yard field goal in the first quarter marked the first time in 16 games under Bobby Hauck in which the Rebels have scored first. Kohorst's 50-yarder in the third quarter marked a new career best for the sophomore from Green Valley High ... Tim Cornett's 80-yard TD scamper was the longest by a Rebel since Darin Brightmon's 89-yarder vs. New Mexico State on Sept. 23, 1989. Cornett finished with 106 yards on 11 carries, giving him his first career 100-yard game.

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  1. Holy moly, does winning this game feel good!

    Caleb Herring: Great!

    Phillip Payne: Great!

    Secondary, particularly Sidney Hodge: Great (Who knew?)!

    Both lines: Great!

    Play calling: Great!

    Ryan - What's the injury update?

  2. hedon, we'll know more come Monday or Tuesday regarding injuries out of this one, but I don't think there was anything significant?

  3. Thanks, Ryan. I didn't see any either. I am always concerned about injuries due to the UNLV depth...or lack there of!

  4. I have been a big critic but I have to say well done.

  5. I told you Bobby Hauch and this team needs time. Now they believe in themselves.With that and the freshman sophomore talent this team could make a suprisingly nice statement.

  6. Let's see what the rest of the season brings. One game does not make it right. It's a good building block, but there are plenty of games ahead. I hope they stay focused.

  7. Thank you to the Rebels for a fantastic effort and a great game. Thank you also to the police officers who kept everyone safe. I brought my family out to the tailgate field and although there was a lot of drinking by what seemed to be underaged people, the amount of cops and what looked like private security kept everyone in check. I actually got to spend some time enjoying myself instead of spending every second worrying about some drunken fool hurting my family. The Rebel fan stands during the game were another matter-drunk adults (they didn't look like college kids to me) had to be dragged out after becoming beligerant when their team started to WIN! Again, thank you to the cops. And GO REBS!

  8. GREAT JOB UNLV!!!! That was so very needed.

  9. WOW!!! So glad I didn't miss that game! It was great! Congrats Rebels! AND I didn't see any of the usual fights that come during a UH-UNLV game (could've been the fact that I couldn't take my eyes off the field).

  10. So glad I can now eat some crow. Great rally Rebels!

  11. I knew Bobby Hauch could motivate them.There is confidence now. Just stay highly upbeat.Take Southern Utah very serious, prepare even greater then previous week. I see SDSU,TCU,Reno,as real tough but the rest are beatable.Build off of this, keep fighting hard.Just play hard, work hard and let the results take care of themselves.I believe in the Rebels.UNLV great campus,Las Vegas great area, Go FIGHT, REBELS..