Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 | 2 a.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.
- 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
The steam collected from the top of Jordan Sparkman's head and collided upwards in the center, creating the illusion of a pointed hat that disappeared as it rose higher.
If the vapor, which was the result of a hard practice in a surprisingly muggy Las Vegas night, had started a bit farther down, Sparkman, a sophomore defensive end, might have resembled a Looney Tunes character like Wile E. Coyote with smoke coming out of his ears. Both man and cartoon are getting exasperated after chasing a singular goal — whether it’s the Road Runner or a win — and to this point coming up short.
“It’s hard to invest so much into our bodies, into practice and working hard every day, and then not succeed in winning,” Sparkman said. “But we’ve got to keep investing. No one can pull back and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know anymore.’”
To this point, the players and UNLV coach Bobby Hauck say they haven’t pulled back. As the Rebels (0-2) prepare for their third straight home game, this one against Washington State (1-1) on Friday at 6 p.m. on ESPN, Hauck said Monday’s practice was the best one of the fall.
“We were sharp, we were energetic, and we were locked in to what we needed to do,” Hauck said. “Obviously, we’ve got a Pac-12 team coming in here, and they looked like that’s what they were preparing for.”
Those preparations, Sparkman said, include putting in at least a couple of new defensive fronts to try to counter Washington State’s pass-first offense. An opponents’ passing numbers are often credited to or blamed on the secondary, but it takes all 11 guys to stop the pass, Hauck said. That’s especially true for the Rebels, whose secondary has left a lot of receivers open over the past two weeks and will be dependent on Sparkman and the defensive front to get some pressure to help them out.
No matter what UNLV rolls out, though, it’s unlikely it will surprise first-year Washington State coach Mike Leach, who has been honing and reinventing his passing attack for more than two decades. Hauck said this year’s version of Leach’s offense is much more mainstream than some of his radical attacks at Texas Tech.
Still, it’s mostly one-dimensional, and Hauck likened Leach-led squads to a triple-option team, which, coincidentally, UNLV will have to prepare for next week when Air Force comes to town.
“(Washington State is) good at what they do,” Hauck said. “They are not so diverse; they just really know what they’re doing within their system. … You can’t give them something (defensively) they haven’t seen.”
Keeping the Cougars’ passing under control also will depend greatly on the Rebels’ defense not making as many crucial mistakes as they did against Northern Arizona last Saturday. Penalties kept the Lumberjacks’ drives alive, during which they eventually found openings at the line of scrimmage and down the field.
There were plenty of mistakes from the offense and special teams, too, but penalties are often viewed as the easiest problems to avoid. UNLV needs to prove that theory correct to have a chance Friday.
“We’ve got to make the plays that we’re supposed to make,” said junior cornerback Sidney Hodge, who had two pass interference penalties against NAU. “Whether we get a (penalty) in the first quarter or the fourth quarter, we still should be able to put that behind us and move on to the next play and execute.”
Another key for UNLV will be coming out at halftime like it has at the start of games. Lackluster third quarters were a big problem in both games, and while they’ve tried to work on that this week in practice, it’s difficult to simulate the feeling of college football’s long halftime break mixed with the adrenaline of game night. Throw in the ESPN broadcast and it’s impossible to predict how the Rebels will respond.
“I don’t think that’s where their focus should be … but all our guys are aware it’s on national TV, I promise,” Hauck said.
Nobody wants to fail, especially in front of a national audience. With no TV, UNLV fell on its face against the Lumberjacks. That added bit of pressure could strengthen the Rebels or make them crumble. There’s no way to know for certain until they start playing.
After last Saturday’s game, Sparkman called senior defensive lineman Beau Brence to talk about the game. Obviously, Sparkman wasn’t happy, and he was depending on the team captain to help steel his resolve. With steam still rising into the night sky, Sparkman seemed satisfied with their conclusion.
“We’ve learned to pick up our heads,” Sparkman said.
The chase continues Friday.
UNLV Hall of Fame tickets on sale
Tickets are now on sale for the 2012 UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony, which takes place at the South Point on Friday, Oct. 12, the night before UNLV’s home game against UNR.
This year’s class includes All-America cornerback Kevin Thomas; the 1984 California Bowl champion football team; men’s basketball player Eddie Owens; women’s basketball player Linda Frohlich; women’s swimmer Lorena Diaconescu; men’s swimmer Jacint Simon; softball player Amie Stewart; men’s tennis coach and two-time interim athletics director Fred Albrecht; and Mike Miller, a graphic artist who created the UNLV mascot, Hey Reb. Former Rebel quarterback and current ESPN personality Kenny Mayne also will be in attendance to receive the Silver Rebel Award.
The event includes a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and the ceremony starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $100 and may be purchased at UNLVtickets.com.