UNLV football:

Offensive line working on keeping its promise to keep Nick Sherry off his back

The hits from Minnesota took a toll on the Rebels’ freshman quarterback, but the passing game has a chance to improve against Northern Arizona

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Steve Marcus

UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry is taken down by Ra’Shede Hageman during UNLV’s season opener against Minnesota at Sam Boyd Stadium Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.

UNLV vs. Minnesota

UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry is taken down by Ra'Shede Hageman during UNLV's season opener against Minnesota at Sam Boyd Stadium Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.  Launch slideshow »

UNLV’s improvement this season depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is freshman quarterback Nick Sherry getting better as the year goes on. There are a lot of ways that can happen, but it probably needs to start with him staying upright more than he did in Saturday’s 30-27 triple-overtime loss to Minnesota.

Sherry was taken down for a sack only twice, but he was hit or knocked to the ground far more than that. The accumulation of those hits, Sherry said after the game, led to his poor passing down the stretch — 4-for-17 with one touchdown and two interceptions in the second half and overtime periods.

“We let Nick get hit way too many times,” left tackle Brett Boyko said Wednesday. “We as an O-line take pride in keeping our quarterback up, and we didn’t do a good enough job.”

To be clear, this isn’t all on the offensive line. After the game, Sherry blamed himself for not trusting the pocket and instead moving outside of it too quickly, which led to a few of those hits. Sherry also didn’t have leading receiver Marcus Sullivan — who had five catches for 53 yards — for the second half after he hobbled off the field with a reaggravated leg injury. He’s listed as probable for Saturday’s game at 7 p.m. when UNLV hosts Northern Arizona, an FCS team that last week lost 63-6 at Arizona State.

The good news for UNLV is that, to see some progression, it doesn’t have to get that much better. For starters, most of the hits weren’t the result of offensive lineman being lost out on the field.

“We weren’t breaking down in our assignment,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “It’s more about finishing plays and finishing blocks.”

If the linemen hold their blocks just a bit longer, Sherry should be able to keep himself in the pocket longer, which, as confusing as it may sound, could lead to him attempting passes more quickly. The reason for that is if he’s comfortable, he can spend those first few seconds finding his targets downfield instead of worrying about being a target in the backfield.

The other reason the passing game may not be far from making big strides is that the running game, behind two-year leading rusher Tim Cornett, looks ready to carry the team.

The plan has always been to rely on Cornett, Bradley Randle and, when he’s healthy, Dionza Bradford to shoulder the offensive load while Sherry finds his footing in college football. On Saturday, Cornett piled up 127 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries while Randle had 45 yards on 10 carries. That’s a solid start, and if Bradford, the second-leading rusher in 2011, can contribute, they’ve got a good chance to get even better.

In UNLV’s ideal offense, one hand feeds the other. The running game’s early success should open up more space for Sherry to throw, but the rushers need Sherry to complete more than 16 of 35 passes, as he did Saturday, to prevent them from constantly stacking the box.

This will be the give and take of UNLV’s offense all season, every action working toward finding the perfect balance to make the Rebels a threat to opposing defenses week to week.

“First and foremost, that’s how we want to play,” Hauck said.

UNLV isn’t good enough to look past any opponents, especially just one year after an embarrassing 41-16 loss to FCS foe Southern Utah, but at this point, it’s really more important for the Rebels to focus on themselves. They will be favored, and if the passing game improves while the running game and defense hold steady, the outcome shouldn’t be an issue.

The Rebels still expect big things out of this season. Completing those goals can start by keeping Sherry off his back.

“We’ve got a good relationship with Nick,” Boyko said. “We tell him it won’t happen again, but sometimes things go wrong or there’s a mistake. … I think he trusts us, but we’ve got to do a better job of keeping our promises on the field.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. This game is Hauck's and his entire coaching staff win or you're out. After losing to Southern Utah and New Mexico last year this coaching staff cannot take another hit losing to Norther AZ. This is a must win for this program. From last weeks performance I liked the effort and attitude. I would like to see more easier screen pass to Tim C. and M. Sullivan a reverse to M. Sullivan is worth the risk. Stop throwing 30 to 40 yards to the sidelines for a possible 3 yard gain and the high possibility for a pick. We need more slants and middle of the field pass options,for our young QB quicker easier read passes so the defense does not put the pressure on our QB. Hauck/Meyers and Williams should/need to watch Oregon, ASU, and MT Griz game last week and take notes and tell Meyers to implement some of the ideas. I love how Oregon and MT Runs to the line of scrimmage no huddle and puts the pressure on the Defense. MT Grizziles ran 98 offensive plays last weekend with a freshman QB and new off.Corrdinator implementing an Oregon look a like offensive. This is exciting for players and Fans and is the future of college football. The pound and ground is a thing of the past. Big Ten football three yards and a cloud of dust is old school and not fun to watch. Fans don't want to see this. We want excitment to brings fans back to fill the seats. Meyers needs to watch the tape and take some notes and implement some of these plays. With WSU coming in next week I am concerned about our deep pass coverage. The 4-3 defense does not put enough pressure on the QB and they will need more pressure to help the DB's. JD Williams please take some notes from Rex Ryan and Buddy Ryan with the Bears. Load the Box and bring pressure because if you don't these passing teams will destory your DB's. I know this is against Hauck's philosophy the bend and don't break policy this has not worked for the last two years nor did it work for Paulson at Utah State where he was fired after two years because of poor def. Even at MT teams moved the ball against the Griz. We still gave up way too many yards to Minnesota last week. In Summary, I like the attitude and effort by the players but I am questioning the philosophy of play calling. We must score more points and the coaching staff needs to play attention to the teams around the country who are putting points on the score board. Being open to change and new ideas is part of leadership and I hope Hauck listens and considers and implements a few plays at least from these successful programs. This weeks game is a career ending game for all the coaches if UNLV does not get a Win.
    I pray and hope for the players and the coaches to get this program moving in the winning direction. I think Hauck is a good coach if he willing to change some concepts and he can choose to do this.