Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 | 5 p.m.
Updated Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 | 9:36 p.m.
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The Las Vegas Sun sports staff reflects on UNLV's 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona. How much more time does coach Bobby Hauck deserve? Could a win this week against Washington State make up for the second loss to a Football Championship Series subdivision in less than a year? Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor discuss this and more on their weekly radio show.
- UNLV must contain Washington State’s passing attack in chase for first victory
- Washington State’s Mike Leach returns to the national stage against UNLV
- Rebels searching for balance between self-belief and burden of letting others down
- ‘We’re hard to love’: Bobby Hauck and Rebels dealing with reality of starting 0-2
- Offensive line working on keeping its promise to keep Nick Sherry off his back
- UNLV punter Chase Lansford among nation’s leaders after solid debut
- Confident UNLV defense, led by Tim Hasson, making positive strides
- All UNLV Football Coverage
WASHINGTON STATE 35, UNLV 27
Despite all of the promise UNLV's offense showed in the first half against Washington State, with freshman quarterback Nick Sherry shuffling around in the pocket and finding receivers on the run, the Rebels still don't have an answer for the second half. UNLV didn't score until there were less than two minutes remaining, and Sherry's last-gasp attempt was easily swatted away, sending the Rebels to 0-3 with a 35-27 defeat.
Sherry's development continued, just as it had from week one to week two, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Rebels' woeful defense and a second half where everything fell silent. Receivers who hauled in passes early on, particularly sophomore Marcus Sullivan, came down with a case of the drops that derailed potential drives. And while UNLV's defense only gave up a touchdown in the second half, the secondary still didn't look good at all.
This was supposed to be a close game, according to the odds, and it was, but Rebels fans have got to be tired of seeing this same thing over and over. There are improvements you could take from certain groups out of each game, but when the final result isn't there it's hard to take solace in that.
Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report from tonight's game.
WASHINGTON STATE 35, UNLV 20
14:07 remaining in the fourth quarter
The quick scores of the first half are a distant memory, but Washington State was finally able to break through early in the fourth quarter with a three-yard touchdown run after converting two plays earlier on fourth down.
Once again, the Cougars found all kinds of space in the secondary, and when Halliday wasn't getting knocked around he was able to find them for easy connections.
UNLV's offense has looked good enough in the second half that it could still score once or twice, but the Rebels are definitely up against it now. There's not a lot of time left and they're going to need to score and the rely on the defense getting a stop or two. It's certainly possible, but not all that likely.
WASHINGTON STATE 28, UNLV 20
A bizarre first half comes to a close with UNLV opting to kick a short field goal instead of going for it on 2nd and goal at the one-yard line. Neither defense has made any real statements, and after a rough start Sherry may actually be out-playing his counterpart.
Sherry is 17-for-23 with two touchdowns, 229 yards and one interception off a tipped pass. Connor Halliday has four touchdowns, but it's come on 11-of-21 passing. Though, to be fair, a lot of those incompletions were good passes that his receivers simply dropped.
UNLV's running game, usually its strength, has been the one trying to provide relief for Sherry. Tim Cornett has 43 yards on 12 carries while Bradley Randle has 16 yards on five carries, though his yardage has come in crucial situations.
Thanks to his 75-yard score, Marcus Sullivan is leading all receivers with 126 yards and two scores on four catches. Both teams have exactly 275 offensive yards, though Washington State got there in 10 fewer plays.
Obviously both teams are going to spend their halftimes trying to find some kind of answer on defense. UNLV gets the ball first, so it will be the Cougars' D that takes the spotlight first. And considering the Rebels' third-quarter struggles this year maybe that's right where the Cougars want to be.
Of course, Sherry hasn't looked like this in the first half of any other game, so maybe that can be the difference as the Rebels try to come out with the same offensive fire and keep pace with Washington State.
WASHINGTON STATE 28, UNLV 17
5:14 remaining in the first quarter
In just more than a minute of game time since UNLV's field goal, the teams have traded long touchdown passes. First it was an 81-yard bomb on third and 16 from Wazzu, then the Rebels countered on their first play with a 75-yard strike to Marcus Sullivan.
I've been harsh on UNLV's defense tonight, but it's not like Washington State's D is doing much either. Since Sherry tossed that first touchdown pass to Sullivan he's looked more comfortable in the pocket and has finally had some time to find his receivers.
With the rate of this scoring it's impossible to tell what it's going to take to win, but in the second quarter UNLV has shown that it might actually be capable of keeping pace. Now if only it could get a couple of stops.
WASHINGTON STATE 21, UNLV 10
6:22 remaining in the first quarter
With some help from a Cougars pass interference penalty, UNLV marched down inside the 10-yard line, and after nearly turning it over on a fumble the Rebels come up with a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-10.
On the drive, backup running back Bradley Randle handled most of the offensive load and looked really good in doing so. He broke a lot of tackles for extra yardage and a couple of first downs, but it was Randle who ended up coughing up the ball when he was hit hard at the five-yard line on third down.
Randle's running is certainly a positive, and in general Sherry is still looking good. But UNLV can't keep pace with field goals unless its defense comes up with some kind of answer against Halliday.
WASHINGTON STATE 21, UNLV 7
12:18 remaining in the first quarter
The way Washington State's passing attack is rolling, it looks like UNLV's secondary isn't even there. Connor Halliday completed his third touchdown pass to his third different receiver, this one a 52-yard shot to Gabe Marks for a 21-7 lead.
Any time Halliday has about five seconds in the pocket to pass, he's finding guys wide open. They've let him down a couple of times by dropping open passes, but not enough to have much of an effect on this game.
I mentioned earlier that UNLV's one scoring drive seemed a bit fluky. Well, now is the Rebels' chance to prove me wrong. And they desperately need to right now, because the Cougars don't look to be slowing down any time soon.
WASHINGTON STATE 14, UNLV 7
End of the first quarter
A fast-paced, back-and-forth first 15 minutes comes to a close with the Rebels trailing 14-7. And considering the way it could of gone, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck has got to be pleased with that.
Washington State has still had time to throw and the receivers are still open, they just dropped a couple of passes. Offensively though, the Rebels seem to be in a groove right now with Sherry looking savvy in the pocket as he sidesteps pass rushers while keeping his eyes downfield. The results haven't always been great — still some bad throws — but just avoiding the contact at this point is a step forward.
In the second quarter, UNLV needs to keep its offensive mojo going and defensively, they must start getting some pressure. The Rebels are lucky to be only down seven, and you can't rely on luck to carry you all the way back.
Also, a note about the offensive line, Bishop Gorman freshman Ron Scoggins has been in the game in place of sophomore Brett Boyko. No reason was given for the switch.
WASHINGTON STATE 14, UNLV 7
2:36 remaining in the first quarter
Just when it looked like UNLV may get run out of its own stadium, the Rebels find an answer. Tim Cornett broke off a big run on the third down, setting up Nick Sherry to find a wide-open Marcus Sullivan for a 37-yard touchdown.
The drive took less than two minutes, which you could either write off as a fluke or take as a cue that UNLV has figured something out. Personally I lean toward the former, but perhaps the biggest key from that drive was Sherry getting some confidence from that throw. The Cougars are going to try to make him win the game. This was a step in the right direction.
WASHINGTON STATE 14, UNLV 0
4:25 remaining in the first quarter
Washington State got the ball back with a tipped-pass interception, and after a fourth-down conversion the Cougars' Connor Halliday tossed his second touchdown pass of the evening, this one a 25-yard streak to Isiah Myers.
UNLV so far on offense is devoted to the run but it's not yielding any results, and unless they can figure something out in that regard it looks like they're on pace to keep giving the ball back with good field position. And WSU is more than happy to take that.
The Rebels were always going to have to play better than they had this season to pull off the upset, but now they need to play a lot better just to avoid getting embarrassed.
WASHINGTON STATE 7, UNLV 0
8:17 remaining in the first quarter
On third and three near midfield, Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday had tons of time to load up and chuck it downfield. The result was a 47-yard gain to Gabe Marks, and two plays later Washington State got on the board with a short touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson.
The only solace UNLV can take is that it didn't help WSU get down the field with penalties, which is more than the Rebels can say on the first drive. UNLV's committed penalties on the first three plays from scrimmage and only avoided getting scored on when linebacker John Lotulelei stepped into the passing lane and picked it off.
The Rebels' drive was short-lived though, and as soon as WSU got the ball back they started going right back to work. I say it way too often, but without pressure from the front four of UNLV's defense, the Rebels don't have much of a chance tonight.
UNLV enters tonight’s game as just more than a touchdown underdog after a big push of Rebels money moved the line from +11.5 to +8.5 at most Las Vegas sports books. It may be the last time UNLV is in single digits for a while.
With an impressive Air Force squad coming in next week and a handful of road games bookending the Battle for the Fremont Cannon, the road only gets tougher for the Rebels. That tough slate ahead combined with the disappointing 0-2 start is why tonight’s game is so important to UNLV coach Bobby Hauck and his team. The longer they go with a doughnut in the win column, the longer questions about Hauck’s future will linger and distract from the team just trying to win a football game each week.
So as they take the field against the Cougars, here are five keys to a Rebels victory tonight. They certainly won’t achieve them all, but UNLV probably needs at least three to come out on top.
1. Feed the beast
Pass only as much as you have to in order to give junior running back Tim Cornett room to operate. He’s ranked 10th in the nation in total rushing yards and he hits the line of scrimmage with such speed that when there’s a hole he’s already in the second level before any defender can slow his momentum.
Running Cornett effectively is obviously dependent on a lot of factors, not the least of which is the offensive line continuing to create those holes through the game. They disappeared in the second half against NAU and the running game went with it. Speaking of the second half …
2. Solve the third quarter
The Rebels looked like zombies at the beginning of each of the two third quarters this year. Any momentum they had at halftime was zapped by offensive drives that never even got started, and last week NAU didn’t even have to run a play to pounce on UNLV after halftime, instead taking the Rebels’ punt back for a 75-yard touchdown that helped put the Lumberjacks in position for the victory.
UNLV has looked good at the beginning of games but it’s been all wrong to start the second half. Hauck said they tried to simulate coming out of halftime this week at practice, and they really need that to pay off.
3. Avoid penalties
This sounds obvious, and it is, but it’s also more realistic than something like “Play better defense.” NAU probably doesn’t score its second touchdown or the game-winning field goal without help from UNLV penalties, and that’s unacceptable for the Rebels.
If you’re going to get beat, at least make the opponent earn it themselves.
4. Get pressure on the quarterback
Again, kind of an obvious one, but UNLV has a great chance to offset Washington State’s pass-happy system if they can make quarterback Jeff Tuel or possibly backup Connor Halliday uncomfortable (Tuel is doubtful with a knee injury). Both may get snaps and they’re not top-level talents, but with time they’ll eventually pick apart the Rebels’ secondary just based on how many times they’re going to be throwing the ball.
Hit them hard and hit them early.
5. Be a hero
If UNLV’s going to win it likely will come down to a close game at the end, just like the first two, and the Rebels need someone to step up and make a play to decide the game. Whether that’s Cornett, freshman quarterback Nick Sherry or someone completely different — I’m looking at you, defense — at least one Rebel is going to have to step up in crunch time to nab the season’s first victory.
Bern’s prediction: This won’t be an embarrassment like last year’s 59-7 beating at Washington State, but I just don’t see this one going the Rebels’ way. My only hesitation is that people — professional gamblers — who know a lot more than me think UNLV will keep it close, and if you’re close you’ve got a chance to win.
However, I think this could be a close game that ends up with a not-so-close score courtesy of a late score or two. UNLV really needs this win, but I’m at a point where I won’t really believe they can do it until I see it. Washington State 27, UNLV 13.