Rebels football:

UNLV backfield trying to keep the good times rolling on the road at Utah State

Road trips haven’t been pleasant for the Rebels in the last few years, but tailback Bradley Randle plans to have fun on this one

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Stephen Sylvanie

UNLV runningback Tim Cornett (35) celebrates with teammates after scoring a first quarter touchdown against the Air Force Falcons at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night.

LOGAN, Utah — Life is good in the UNLV backfield.

Freshman quarterback Nick Sherry is getting better every week, earning praise from both teammates — “He’s doing his thing,” offensive lineman Yusef Rodgers said last week — and opponents — “You can see that (Sherry) is really, really going to be an excellent player,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said Monday. And tailbacks Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle are coming off their best combined rushing game of the season: 180 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-35 victory against the Falcons.

Now they’re trying to take the good times on the road, where the Rebels haven’t won since 2009. Randle, arguably the happiest guy day-tot-day in the backfield if not the team, said he expects to be bouncing around the same as he would at home when UNLV (1-3) takes the field at Utah State (3-1) on Saturday night at 5 on ESPN3.com

“Road games are just as fun as playing at Sam Boyd,” Randle said. “We get to hear the boos … that gives us energy.”

Maybe that’s true, but in recent years it hasn’t given them any success. In the last two years UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is 0-14 on the road with only one of those losses by less than 15. The last win outside of Las Vegas came at New Mexico under then-coach Mike Sanford, who will be on the opposite sidelines Saturday.

This year’s team is certainly more capable to win away from home than either of the last two years’ squads, but the opponent hasn't gotten any easier. Utah State is one missed field goal at Wisconsin from being undefeated and as of Friday morning the Aggies were 20.5-point favorites against the Rebels.

Sophomore dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton is the second-leading rusher (50.5 yards per game) behind Valley grad Kerwynn Williams, who ranks just outside the top 20 nationally with 101.5 ypg and three rushing touchdowns. Keeton’s ability to use his legs or his arm (219.8 ypg, 70.2 percent completion on his passes and seven touchdowns) is the motor for what appears to be one of the top 10 teams outside of the BCS conferences. And that’s before you even get to the 11th-ranked defense that’s set on ending UNLV’s good times and continuing its road losing streak.

“They’re a complete football team,” Hauck said.

The Rebels plan to combat that by carrying the loose yet focused atmosphere of this week’s practice on to the plane. Randle is one of the main guys responsible for maintaining that mood; telling jokes in the huddle and generally making sure no one forgets they’re playing a game.

“He loves to play,” Hauck said, “and that’s kind of contagious.”

“I’m always focused on just having fun with the game and having love for the game,” Randle said. “Everything else will come because the game will come to you instead of you searching for the game.”

It’s not like his attitude doesn’t come with a lot of effort on the field, though. Randle is one of the hardest guys for opposing defenses to bring down and when he’s on the field he doesn’t take plays off.

“He’s a great example to the other offensive skill guys because he plays really hard without the football, too,” Hauck said.

While Cornett, the nation’s seventh-leading rusher, is the clear No. 1, Randle has given Hauck enough of a second option to mostly rest Cornett in each of the first four second quarters this year and keep the carries relatively balanced early in the season. A third option would be nice, too, but the departure of last year’s backup Dionza Bradford has left Sherry with the third-most carries (14), half of which are actually sacks that go in the box score as rushing attempts.

That’s a concern for long-term success at a position often more susceptible to injuries than most, but for now Cornett and Randle have it under control.

“Got the Lightning and Thunder combo,” Randle said of his new nicknames for Cornett and himself. “I feel comfortable with it and the offensive line is doing excellent.”

The nickname could certainly use some work, considering there are running back tandems from the NFL down to youth football calling themselves the exact same thing. Maybe something local like Wynn and Encore, because Wynn (Cornett) is usually the first one of the two that comes to mind but sometimes you’ve got to go to Encore (Randle) to finish off the night.

Admittedly that’s not great, but if UNLV can somehow pull off the upset at Utah State the Rebels will have plenty of time to brainstorm on it. And if the streak reaches 17 games the next week’s practices will likely take on a slightly more serious tone again. That’s the ebb and flow of wins and losses, and it’s one reason Bradley wants to make noise Saturday and keep the good times rolling.

“We expect all the stuff they’re going to throw at us, and when we make our plays everyone in the stadium is quiet,” Randle said. “That’s when we’re loud.”

Roster notes

— Defensive end Sonny Sanitoa may be on the field for a few snaps against Utah State, Hauck said Wednesday.

Sanitoa, who was originally listed as out on this week’s injury report, was slated to be a starter this year until he injured his knee early in fall camp. Since then his rehab has gone very well and Sanitoa returned this week to the practice field. It’s unclear just how much, if at all, he’ll play Saturday, but the fact that he’s already this close to returning is good news for the depth at defensive line.

— Junior Caleb Herring is still the backup quarterback, but since he’s primarily playing wide receiver Hauck took the yellow non-contact jersey away from him so he can get used to getting hit during practice.

— Freshman safety Peni Vea, the team’s leading tackler through three games, will miss his second consecutive game after getting injured on a cut block in practice as UNLV prepared for Air Force last week. Freshman Kenny Keys made his first career start in place of Vea.

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

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  1. Concerned about the secondary-the weak link on this team. Hopefully offense can do some long drives and keep utah state offense off the field like they did against AF. Would like to see some more blitzing-let rebel db's do more man to man coverage,which is usually more risky but is easier to figure out mentaly,whereas relying on zones can confuse players. Think young secondary blowing to many zone coverages. Good luck on Saturday!

  2. Just once I would like to see a game where we have NO roughing penalties! We have to stop getting such stupid penalties. We seem to be making progress in all areas but please, stop making such stupid penalties!! Has anyone ever kept track of these on a game-by-game basis? Pretty sure we have at least 2 per game now.

    Good luck tomorrow. Bring the wood like you did against AF!!!

  3. well this game is going show a lot about this team. Satisfied with one win or are they going to come out hungry. AF played into UNLV with the run game. If Utah St can throw (i know nothing about them) its going to be along day. Our secondary has been burned over and over again. Maybe a win will help them out and make catches that they should and havent. When the microscope is on people tend to tighten up. Hopefully Hauck opens the playbook up and doesnt become so predictable he was better in the AF game

  4. Good luck rebels. Utah St. is a good (not great) team this year they should have beat Wisconsin on the road and had an impressive win against Utah as well. Don't be to hard on the rebs if they lose this one. But UNLV being 20.5 dogs is a good bet to take, I see UNLV losing this one by a touchdown or two. I hope I'm wrong.

    Go Rebels!