Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 | 3:20 p.m.
Updated Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 | 5:43 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern diagnose UNLV football's heartbreak against that team to the north while giving Rebels fans some life with info on the newest basketball recruit.
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For now, at least, the battle cry inside UNLV’s locker room seems to have fallen silent. The Rebels belted it so loudly in the first half of Saturday’s 42-37 loss to UNR that they’re still catching their breath after getting punched in the stomach.
It’s hard to get back up after getting knocked down like that, after leading by as much as 21 against the team you most want to beat and then watching as they end up winning for the eighth straight year. Scuffles broke out in the Sam Boyd Stadium stands as the game got closer and closer, with UNLV fans seemingly trying to put up a fight for their team.
That feeling in the pit of the Rebels’ stomachs doesn’t just go away like the disappointment after other losses this season. This is different, and UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is treating it as such.
“We can’t let Reno beat us again,” Hauck said Monday from the Lied Athletic Complex. “My biggest concern this week is getting our players back off that game.”
Depending on your view, No. 24 Boise State (5-1, 2-0) is either the perfect next opponent for UNLV (1-6, 1-1) or the absolute worst.
Those who think this game in Boise is well-placed in the schedule may simply point to the Broncos’ recent success and the number in front of their name. It’s easier to get up for a game, the theory goes, when the opponent is as good as Boise State. UNLV senior offensive lineman Doug Zismann acknowledged that getting lost in the Broncos’ game tape likely would put the Wolf Pack further out of the Rebels’ minds.
Of course, the more you watch that tape, the more you realize just how good Boise State is, especially at home. Since the 1999 season, the Broncos are 85-3 at Bronco Stadium, home of the Smurf Turf. Another daunting factoid for opponents: Boise State hasn’t lost in October since 2001, a streak it continued with last week’s 20-10 victory against Fresno State (4-3, 2-1).
In the past few years, former quarterback Kellen Moore got almost all of the national headlines for Boise State. It’s not that he didn’t deserve them, Hauck said, but the program is much bigger than that one guy.
“He was so good that it overshadowed some things they were doing,” Hauck said. “They were pretty spectacular on defense the past couple of years, and they are again this year.”
The Broncos lead the Mountain West in the holy trinity of team defensive stats: total defense (334.7 ypg), scoring defense (14.7 ppg) and turnover margin (1.83 tpg). Their offense isn’t nearly as consistent as it was last year with Moore and running back Doug Martin, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it’s coming along.
All of this is to say it would be easy for any team, let alone one coming off such an emotional loss, to buckle under the pressure. This is UNLV’s first game at Boise State since 1977, so aside from some of the coaches, it will be a new experience for the team. They’ve heard about the blue field and seen it on film. Some teams think it’s an unfair advantage, though UNLV suggests the home team’s leg up is more about the roster than the turf.
“I don’t think it will come down to their field,” junior linebacker Tim Hasson said.
The Broncos, who were 28-point favorites as of Monday evening, are marching toward a possible spot in a BCS bowl game as the top-ranked nonpower conference member in the initial computer rankings. This is just another game on their journey.
For UNLV, it could be a turning point. A bounce-back game in Boise — basically a close loss — could be huge mentally as UNLV gets into an easier part of its schedule. But a blowout, which is entirely possible both because of the opponent and the team’s emotional state, could sink the Rebels for weeks to come.
Unlike most other weeks, there wasn’t really any talk of winning at Monday’s press conference. Anything is possible, of course, but Hauck seemed to sense the reality of the situation. The Rebels have bigger problems than pulling off one improbable victory.
“They just don’t lose at home,” Hauck said. “For us, licking our wounds, we just need to have a good week of practice and go up and try to play our best game.”