Rebels football:

Blog: UNLV plays best half of its season and holds on for 38-35 win against Air Force

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Stephen Sylvanie

UNLV football players celebrate their first victory of the season, a 38-35 win over Air Force at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night.

Updated Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 | 10:17 p.m.

UNLV Downs Air Force

UNLV football players celebrate their first victory of the season, a 38-35 win over Air Force at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night. Launch slideshow »

UNLV snags first win

KSNV coverage of UNLV's victory against Air Force, Sept. 22, 2012.

UNLV 38, AIR FORCE 35

Game over

The big plays finally outnumbered the mistakes, and it showed up on the scoreboard. UNLV held on at Sam Boyd Stadium for a 38-35 victory in its conference opener, a game that could speak volumes for how the rest of this season plays out.

Tim Cornett averaged 6.7 yards per carry for 114 yards and a score, backup Bradley Randle scored three times and, most surprisingly, the defense bounced back from an abysmal first half to nearly shut out Air Force in the final 30 minutes and preserve the victory.

It was an absolutely terrific turnaround that seemed very improbable after UNLV gave up a touchdown just before halftime. That, plus the Falcons' rolling offense, looked like it would be more than enough, but UNLV never seem deterred. They made big plays, a fumble recovery chief among them, and shut down the triple option before it really got going down the stretch.

This is something to build on. Not an 'We almost won' disappointment but a bona fide victory that makes UNLV (1-3) 1-0 in conference play. This doesn't solve things long-term and two tough road games await the next two weeks, but this is big. UNLV needed this.

Bobby Hauck needed this. And he got it.

UNLV 38, AIR FORCE 35

4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter

After UNLV's special teams gave it 30 yards via penalties, Air Force's offense quickly ate up 40 yards and scored to pull within three while taking little time off the clock.

The short field gave the Falcons life that hasn't been seen since the first half. Now they have to try to slow a suddenly live UNLV offense in order to get the ball back with enough time to try to win or kick a game-tying field goal.

Another week at Sam Boyd Stadium. Another one-possession game in the final minutes.

UNLV 38, AIR FORCE 28

6:56 remaining in the fourth quarter

UNLV came out possessed in the third quarter, and nothing has changed in the fourth. This is the best the Rebels have played all season.

The touchdown came via the air, the first passing score of the night. After two straight rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line, Sherry rolled out on a play action and found fullback William Vea for the short score.

UNLV picked up multiple third down conversions on the way and overall has simply looked really, really good. This is a team that's clearly tired of losing close games and may have actually figured out how to do something about it.

This isn't over, but the Rebels are in control. That's all you can ask for.

UNLV 31, AIR FORCE 28

End of the third quarter

For one quarter, both sides of the ball came together for UNLV, and it was something to see. Bradley Randle's third rushing score put the Rebels ahead 31-28 late in the third quarter. He could do that because UNLV's defense has shut down the Falcons unlike it has the rest of this game.

The triple option is suddenly getting stuffed before it can get to the edge and Connor Dietz has absolutely no answer in the passing game. Even a fluky fourth-down conversion after a muffed punt couldn't get under UNLV's skin. The Rebels just forced a three-and-out right after that.

That plus a turnover courtesy of Tani Maka and Kenny Brown sparked the offense as it streamed down the field. It's yet another close game, but this one feels so much different than last week against Washington State. It never felt like the Rebels could win that one. Tonight they've got a chance.

AIR FORCE 28, UNLV 24

8:37 remaining in the third quarter

Tim Cornett hasn't found much running room tonight, or at least he hadn't until he bounced to the outside and scooted down the sideline for a 76-yard gain that set up Bradley Randle's second rushing touchdown of the game.

The Rebels looked like they may stall out until Cornett came to the rescue, just getting tripped up at the 2-yard line. Nolan Kohorst originally missed the extra point but a penalty gave him another shot and he put it threw.

As always, the onus is on UNLV's defense to make something happen, but at least the offense has shown some ability to keep pace after a deflating end to the first half.

AIR FORCE 28, UNLV 17

Halftime

This could have been a really positive halftime for UNLV. Then its defense and special teams got in the way.

Bradley Randle scored a touchdown in the final minute of the first half that pulled UNLV within 21-17 seemingly for the half. Then Chase Lansford booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, setting up Air Force at the 35-yard line, where Ty MacArthur

caught a short pass and made half of the Rebels' defense on his way to the 7-yard line. Quarterback Connor Dietz ran it in on the next play for a 28-17 lead at the break.

This could have been a completely different game. UNLV gets the ball to start the second half, and with a score right before halftime they could have had momentum. Instead, Air force has everything on its side. When they're not failing on fourth-down attempts, they're running all over the Rebels.

Besides Sherry's one really bad throw on the interception the offense has been pretty solid, but it's getting no help from the other side of the ball and one side isn't going to be enough.

Air Force has 302 yards of total offense, including 238 on the ground. UNLV has 224 overall, including 184 through the air. Marcus Sullivan has been really solid, with five catches for 96 yards, but like everyone else on offense, he's dependent on the defense giving him enough chances to make an impact.

AIR FORCE 21, UNLV 10

7:10 remaining in the second quarter

After what was arguably Nick Sherry's worst throw of his young career, Air Force scored its third rushing touchdown with its third different running back to take a 21-10 lead in the second quarter.

Sherry threw an interception where Air Force's Alex Means was the only player from either team even close to the pass. Devante Davis nearly took it back on the return, but Means was ruled down and a flag after the play moved the ball to the 8-yard line. The Falcons only needed two plays from there for Broam Hart to rumble into the end zone.

In between scoring drives the UNLV defense again held on a fourth-down attempt, but those two drives are the only ones that haven't resulted in Air Force touchdowns. Compared to the way the Falcons have moved the ball the rest of the game, they very much seem like flukes.

AIR FORCE 14, UNLV 10

11:40 remaining in the second quarter

If not for a holding penalty on Taylor Barnhill, UNLV may have tied this game up. As it stands the Rebels had to settle for a 37-yard field goal that pulled them within 14-10.

Barnhill was called for holding on a Cornett run that ended at the 1-yard line. In the ensuing plays Sherry struggled to find his targets despite having plenty of time to throw. Obviously there's not guarantee that UNLV would have scored a touchdown without the penalty, but you'll always take the ball at the 1-yard line rather than second and long near the 30.

Now the pressure is back on UNLV's defense to come up with some answers to the Falcons' ground game. So far the results have favored Air Force in a big way, including 180 rushing yards in the first quarter alone.

AIR FORCE 14, UNLV 7

End of the first quarter

On its second defensive drive, UNLV stopped Air Force when it attempted to convert a fourth down. And on the other two the Rebels have been dominated.

Less than three minutes after UNLV tied the game, the Falcons found the end zone again with Cody Getz running in for the team's second rushing touchdown of the game. It was just as easy as the first one, which isn't good news for UNLV. They will have to make significant improvements throughout this game if they're going to give the offense any chance to keep pace.

UNLV 7, AIR FORCE 7

3:09 remaining in the first quarter

UNLV's first offensive drive didn't result in anything. It's second keeps the Rebels very much in this game.

On third down Sherry connected with Marcus Sullivan on a simple crossing route, and Sullivan turned it into a 60-yard gain that ended inside Air Force's 5-yard line. Sullivan got there with a slick sideways hop to split the defense that's more common coming from a point guard on the hardwood than a receiver on turf.

Tim Cornett finished the drive with a 2-yard dive for the score. The Rebels' defense wasn't stellar on its second drive, but it did hold its ground when the Falcons attempted to go for it on fourth down. They will need to stiffen up throughout the game, but at least the offense showed than it's ready to go.

AIR FORCE 7, UNLV 0

10:38 remaining in the first quarter

Air Force had no trouble running the ball all over UNLV on its opening drive, cruising down the field with a 13-play drive that resulted in Mike DeWitt's one-yard touchdown run.

The Falcons converted two third downs on the way there and had not trouble 1. Getting to the outside and 2. Making the Rebels miss once they got there. As I've said all week, Air Force is going to kill UNLV in one-on-one situations in the open field. The Rebels have to keep the rushers corralled between the hashmarks as much as possible.

UNLV's offense was always going to have to come up big to have a chance in this game. Here's their first chance.

UNLV tries to survive the relentlessness of Air Force's swarming attack

Living in the desert, Las Vegas residents are familiar with the annual summer justification, ‘Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.’ In the Midwest, the saying goes, ‘It’s not the heat that will get you; it’s the humidity.’ Air Force is the humidity.

The Falcons come to Sam Boyd Stadium tonight at 7 to play UNLV on digital channel 8.2 and Cox Cable channel 129. And when they do, they won’t look like they can bring the heat.

Air Force is a smaller football team, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. The Falcons don’t pass much, with the possible exception of today against a secondary that gets beat by simple post patterns. But what they lack in traditional temperature they more than make up for in a swarming, unrelenting attack that hits you as soon as you walk out the door and makes it hard to breathe.

The Falcons will run through, around and, if you let them, right past you over and over again. Their triple option very much resembles a military exercise drilled down to perfection.

The worst thing the Rebels defense can do is let Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz and running back Cody Getz get to the outside. Once there, the Falcons’ playmakers will have a huge advantage in the open field against UNLV’s linebackers and secondary, and Getz’s speed and agility will likely outduel anyone on the Rebels’ roster.

Limiting Air Force is about keeping containment with the defensive ends and pushing everything on the field north and south. Generally, a defense would love for its counterpart to run toward the sideline rather than the end zone, but not this one. The Falcons do their damage on the periphery, where their lack of size means less and constant cut blocks give them an advantage over larger teams such as UNLV.

Basically, UNLV’s defense has its hands full. The good news is that freshman quarterback Nick Sherry has looked better with each start this season. So much so that you have to believe he could pull out a big play to win a close game sooner than later. That’s dependent mostly on the defense being able to keep it close and Sherry’s wide receivers actually catching the ball.

Everyone from Devante Davis to Jake Phillips, but especially Marcus Sullivan, has let Sherry down by dropping an open pass that would have kept a drive moving forward. UNLV is still a run-first team, but it will likely have to play from behind at some point. The Rebels are going to need their wideouts to help. That and penalties have been killers the past few weeks, and UNLV simply isn’t good enough to survive those kind of mistakes.

Can it survive three hours in the humidity?

Bern’s prediction: The line on this game moved down on Saturday to +10 for UNLV. There is some belief that the Rebels will keep it close, and I can’t argue that. The game should be shorter because the clock will move more on Air Force’s running plays, and Sherry can play a little bit. A Rebels win? I’m not going that far. For my money, Las Vegas has this game right on the number. Air Force 31, UNLV 21.

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

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  1. To all the people who said last week that the Rebels should fire their coach, that UNLV wouldn't win a game this season ...IN YOUR FACE! Your home sports team is like your kids, you don't give up on them! Sure, when they suck at something, you root them on and feel bad for them but you never bad mouth them! Problem is that few people in Vegas are from Vegas. The people who grew up here like me have to rally around our teams through thick and thin and root them on no matter what. UNLV has a QB that we can watch mature into an NFL QB in 4 years, a good running game, and the defense stopped one of the toughest offenses to stop in the nation today! They can beat anyone if they play well. Time for this town to get behind their team and give them the support they need, the support they deserve.

  2. Whoa there, Mickey. Take a deep breath, exhale. Repeat. There. Very good now.

    Where were you with your sermon last week or the two weeks before that? You only show your face and spout your team spirit because of a win?

    I am really happy for the Rebels. They could have shut it down after the first half, but they showed some heart. More than that, in my opinion, is that Hauck finally got his head out of where it should not be and introduced some creativity to the offense! It is about freakin' time!

  3. I'm not going to say UNLV is going going to go on to win the rest of the season(though I hope they do), but where's GoBruins at?? I hope he's not crying over UCLA losing.

    Go Rebels! All fun aside, great game by the Rebels against a real good Air Force team. Hopefully they can get that first road win in two years next week!

  4. LMFAO - Here come the homers......a good coach wins games they're supposed to win. Winning one game a year is not going to cut it. This doesn't mean S___! I stand behind my position that Hauck should be fired....the end.

  5. They fought and competed and finally won. If they win or lose next week what is important is that they compete! Good win and great for team confidence, should parlay that next week! I do see improvement every week. NO Hauck should not be fired!

  6. I'd like to give a shout out to all the c_nts that cry when the going gets tough. We just beat a disciplined never say die America's finest paid squad!
    Louis_G
    Brianlv
    mj20
    BigUglyAndy
    Herectic
    SANDIEGOREBEL
    Sinatra711
    jackpot
    GoBruins
    ressince73
    and so on Good for Rebels Coach well deserved nothing comes easy keep it up!

  7. i havent been that neg just frustrated with the current situation. i was not able to watch the game but listened on the radio on the internet...i posted that i thought unlv could beat air force due to them not throwing a lot. UNLV needs to get some d backs on the field or recruit hard next year. any team with half a pass game is going to be a problem. I fear 3rd and longs b/c i have seen our d backs get burned over and over again. i am glad the students finnaly got a win after all the hard work they put in every day at practice

  8. I have to say it felt good watching the win.

    Yes, we all have the answers on how to fix our favorite messed up FBS program. Let's just take this week off, relax, and vicariously celebrate a small victory.

  9. It's been awhile since I actually watched UNLV football, but just from watching this one game there is reason for optimism, starting with the QB play. I'm not sure on the numbers, but the 3rd down conversion rate had to be up there, and that is a good thing and reveals a qb that knows what he's doing. I also liked the play calling from the off. coordinator in the second half, establishing the run and then throwing when the defense committed to run stoppage. the double personal foul was a terrible call, but it was still a lack of focus by the Rebel player to give the extra shove.

    I enjoyed it! Congrats to Coach Hauck and the Rebels. Now we have something to watch while waiting for basketball season. Let's beat Reno for once!

  10. Hey Andy I am here.. Again I will say for starters that I am a Michigan fan, my name GoBruins is for Boston Bruins the NHL team not for UCLA.

    Yet lets not jump the gun on the win, yes they won. (I was there actually section 113 row 1. Got the tickets on vividseats for $6.00! Even wore red.)Yet thank god Air Force did not show up to play. For is was back to back running up the middle then a pass to the side lines and repeat for the Rebels. All game long. Also what was up with Hauck trying to give that game away in the final minutes, my god that was the worse final minutes in a game that I have ever seen. Also every UNLV fan in the section I was sitting in had the same thing to say. The real issue with the team is the coaching! Not so much the team... My statement stands true Hauck needs to go and this should be proof of that!

    After a win you do not take the week off, you work even harder to keep the wins coming.

  11. @ricovegas - it's unnecessary to list my name....I am proud to say I am not a fan of Hauck, I'm a fan of UNLV. I've never supported the decision to hire Hauck and still stand behind it. Nor do I support the extremely poor decision with the extension we gave him last year....one big win doesn't make a coach good. The writing is on the wall....this guy sucks! The football players deserve to be recognized for the win...I support their efforts...but Hauck blows.

  12. @ GoBruins...I know this is not the proper place, but it's too bad the NHL Lockout is going to keep the B's from contending again. I love how they re-uped with Looch, Marchand, and Seguin. Keeping the core in tact. Plus now Rask can cement himself as the #1 keeper we have a shot to be Cup contenders for the next 5 yrs or so. Let's hope there is a season.

    I saw most of the 2nd half from Red Rock. Even there are so many problems below the surface with the program in general, it's a breath of fresh air that for once we can talk about a victory instead of finding another way to lose (and with that Double Personal foul call late, I thought that was going to be the downfall). GoBruins is 1000% right. They need to parlay this into results on the road and keep building. A couple of bounces here and there and this team could be 3-1. Not going to get any easier from here. But let's enjoy this for at least a few days.

  13. @RedSox.. I really think that the lockout will end prior to the start of the season. The NHL has to much to loose after gaining so much ground last year to toss it all away. The Bruins will be a huge force to be reckon with this year.

    I understand that a lot of the homers here don't want to listen to an outsider to tell them what needs to be done, but hell if Rutgers can do it then there is hope for anyone. Just need the fans to wake up, maybe you can get through them.. Again I would love to root for a home team but serious changes need to be made.