Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 | 2 a.m.
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All that Bobby Hauck's program got in return was … well … even the second-year coach had a tough time appropriately describing the Rebels' shocking 41-16 loss late Saturday night.
"Disappointing's probably not a strong enough word for that," he said while suppressing anger and frustration as best he could during a postgame press conference. "I think everyone in that locker room is probably at a personal low point right now. Everything we gained a week ago in terms of momentum or excitement about our season is gone.
"We served it up, they took it and it was bad."
The Rebels (1-3) did not just lose to a Football Championship Subdivision team for the first time since 1994. They were beaten. Thoroughly.
A week after UNLV was crisp in all facets of the game in a 40-20 upset of Hawaii that pumped fresh oxygen into a season that looked gloomy early, the Rebels couldn't have possibly been any more sloppy.
In the first half, it was the offense that failed to click.
One situation that stands out came midway through the first quarter, with UNLV already leading SUU 7-0. Facing a first-and-goal at the Thunderbirds' one-yard line after four run plays had netted 49 yards on the drive, sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring checked out of a called run play after noticing senior receiver Phillip Payne — a red zone specialist — with one-on-one coverage on the perimeter.
The problem was that Payne missed the audible, and after the snap, while trying to block a defensive back instead of heading for the back corner of the end zone on a route, was called for offensive pass interference. Three snaps later, Herring fumbled the ball away while being sacked, and a prime chance to step on SUU's throat early vanished, never to be seen again.
"That one's just gonna hang forever, (I'll) go to my grave with that one," Hauck said. "First-and-goal at the one and no points. Giving that option (to Herring) is bad coaching by me. We try to give our guys some leeway to try and be smart, and we out-smarted ourselves. That's bad by me."
After that, it just got worse for Herring, who admitted afterward that he was pressing constantly to make up for his mounting mistakes.
"I didn't need to press, and I did," he said. "And when I pressed, it just kept spiraling from there."
Herring was 23-of-41 for 223 yards on the night, with one touchdown pass in the closing minutes. But after turning the ball over just once in his first three career starts, Herring threw three interceptions Saturday night, with all of them being returned by SUU defenders for touchdowns. He also had the crucial lost fumble, accounting for four of UNLV's five turnovers on the night. Herring was replaced a couple of times by junior backup Sean Reilly, who couldn't spark the offense, either.
The toughest of Herring's turnovers to recover from was a pick-six that he threw on the first play of the second half, after UNLV, despite a brutal offensive first half, was tied with SUU at the break, 10-10, and still had a chance to salvage the evening.
In the first half, UNLV's defense had at least held its ground, forcing SUU's Brad Sorensen into 14 incompletions on 21 pass attempts and allowing only 76 total yards.
But as Herring and the offense fell apart and got away from the run game more and more, the defense followed suit.
On the night, a Thunderbird defense that was allowing 4.6 yards per carry to opponents coming in held UNLV to 108 yards on 38 attempts. UNLV out-gained SUU in terms of total offense, 402-256, but was just 7-of-21 on third downs and learned the hard way that it's simply not a good enough football team to turn the ball over five times and still win.
"I worry about everybody involved's mental state right now," Hauck continued. "This is all-time bad."
So, what's next?
Instead of heading up to Reno for an Oct. 8 showdown with the rival Wolf Pack at 2-2 and with aspirations of forming a special, unexpected run, Hauck made it sound like the next two weeks will be nothing short of brutal on his young team that just can't maintain momentum.
With as unpredictable as UNLV has been so far this season, it's anyone's guess as to which team will show up when the Rebels try to knock off UNR for the first time since 2004.
"We're back to square one, which is disappointing," he said. "We're going to go practice a bunch. Long and hard and physical. It's going to be a toughness check for everybody.
"We're going back to spring ball now. We're going to be physical; we're going to go back and we're going to play the survivors up in Reno."
This and that …
Payne finished with with 13 catches for 175 yards and the aforementioned late touchdown grab. Both marked new career highs, while the 13 catches were the second most in UNLV single-game history behind Randy Gatewood's NCAA-record 23 in a 1994 game against Idaho. Payne also now has 23 career TD receptions, putting him one behind the program's all-time record holder, Henry Bailey (24 from 1991-94) … First half interceptions by Tani Maka and Daniel Harper were UNLV's first two picks of the season … UNLV won't play against at Sam Boyd Stadium for 35 days. They return against Colorado State on Oct. 29.