Friday, Aug. 31, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Tim Cornett ‘was a warrior’ in UNLV’s triple-overtime loss to Minnesota
- BLOG: Rebels fall to Minnesota in triple overtime, 30-27
- Take 5: Minnesota players and plots to know before Thursday’s game at UNLV
- The three-year itch: The Rebels’ confidence in practice needs to translate to the field in 2012
- Analysis: Importance of UNLV’s opener against Minnesota can’t be overstated
- For UNLV’s Aaron Reed, being an ambassador for UNLV football is a job he takes with pride
- UNLV football’s staff prepares for 2012 season opener with new play-callers
- All UNLV Football Coverage
There’s no record of just how many times UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry got hit Thursday night. Officially he was sacked just twice, but seemingly every time he went back to pass — and even just after hand-offs — Sherry had to get picked up off the ground by teammates.
Sherry’s first big mistake — an interception that Brock Vareen camped under like he was fielding a punt — came in the first quarter, and it was really the only blemish in a solid first half. UNLV (0-1) went into halftime down 7-3 and Sherry was 12-of-18 for 93 yards.
While the Rebels stayed in the game the whole way, Sherry disappeared down the stretch, going 4-for-17 the rest of the way with two more interceptions.
“The hits wore me down,” Sherry said. “I haven’t been hit in two years. The first ones kind of woke me up and in the second half I started to feel it.”
The middle pick wasn’t Sherry’s fault. A short pass intended for Devante Davis was batted into the air and scooped up by a Minnesota defender. That happens, and UNLV’s defense actually turned the mistake into what could be the most positive drive of the game moving forward with the season.
The Gophers set up at the 25-yard line and immediately went to the 12. From there the Rebels stiffened up and shut down Minnesota at the 5, forcing a field goal.
Before that kick the game was tied and Minnesota had been lapping UNLV in total yardage. It seemed inevitable that the Gophers would break through and possibly break the game open, but UNLV held strong.
The final stats, including 478 yards allowed, don’t tell a story of defensive excellence, but UNLV’s defenders were stellar in keeping the game close.
“We’re finally playing defense here,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “Defense has not been synonymous with UNLV football, and we hope that it does become that way.”
Junior Tim Hasson finished with seven total tackles, including a sack, and added an interception on the first possession of the game and a fumble recovery that helped UNLV’s offense snap out of its third-quarter funk.
The Rebels got the ball to start the second half and promptly went three-and-out on their first two possessions. The first one was just three incomplete passes and the Rebels actually called for another pass (another incompletion) on the first play of the second drive.
Sherry wasn’t getting much time in the first half and that only got worse in the final 30 minutes. Instead of taking advantage of Minnesota’s offensive stagnation, UNLV failed to put a couple of plays together, let alone sustain a drive.
“We had a chance to maybe put a little space between us and them in the third quarter and they won it on the defensive side of the football,” Hauck said.
Hasson’s fumble recovery on a muffed punt changed that by giving the offense the ball at Minnesota’s 33-yard line. A pass interference penalty and Tim Cornett, who finished with a career-high 127 yards, did most of the work from there. Cornett plunged in from one yard out for a 10-7 UNLV lead.
That offensive revival was short-lived, though. The teams traded field goals in the fourth quarter and set up an overtime that outscored regulation.
Cornett scored from 18 yards out. Then Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray threw to John Rabe to force the second session. Gray and Rabe hooked up again on the very next play and UNLV needed a personal foul penalty just to give itself a chance to force a third overtime.
On fourth down from the 6-yard line Sherry scrambled left and found a wide-open Davis in the end zone. It was Sherry’s final completion.
Tied at 27, UNLV took the ball again in the third overtime, and from the 11-yard line Sherry rolled to his right under pressure and lofted an easy interception toward the end zone.
It was a bad throw and, worse, it went against the most important lesson Hauck had tried to instruct in his freshman quarterback.
“One thing Coach told me was, ‘You don’t have to win the game,’ ” Sherry said. “I saw a receiver in the back of the end zone but I was running away from a guy so I didn’t have balance and under threw him.”
Minnesota ended the game with a 32-yard field goal that sent what was left of a sparse 16,013 crowd for the exits.
The result, obviously, is not what UNLV was going for, especially not after being so close to victory. It’s the first game, though, and there are 12 more to go. In order to find some positive results in those remaining games UNLV needs more defensive performances like this one, which Hauck made sound like a certainty.
“It’s a given that we’re going to be a hard-hitting, physical football team,” Hauck said.
They also need to avoid the usual game-killers like turnovers and penalties. Cornett said the team would rally around Sherry after his up-and-down debut.
And Sherry, though disappointed, was very positive after the game. He took his lumps and nearly pulled out the victory. He and Cornett both agreed this is not the same team that lost its opener at Wisconsin last year.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Sherry said. “Now I’ve got to fix my mistakes.”
He’s certainly not the only one.