FROM LAS VEGAS — To get a better feel for what we might see from UNLV on Friday, beat writer Taylor Bern of the Las Vegas Sun was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the Rebels. Read on for his insight.
1. So what the heck happened against Northern Arizona?
“Saturday's 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona was an absolute collapse and the team proving to itself that it can¹t win when it makes mistakes. The Rebels came out on fire in the beginning of the game and looked like they were going to roll, but as soon as NAU made some defensive adjustments to stop the power running game, UNLV had no counter. Instead of finding some resolve and fighting back, everything fell apart; questionable play-calling, dropped passes and costly penalties all added up to a loss that has many calling for UNLV coach Bobby Hauck's job.”
2. How would you describe UNLV's offensive style?
“The offense is most effective when junior Tim Cornett, the nation¹s 10th-leading rusher is finding holes and getting to the second level. He's a tremendous downhill runner, hitting the line at nearly full speed on most of his carries. Problem is, the Rebels¹ opponents know this too so it¹s easy to stack the box and force freshman quarterback Nick Sherry to throw the ball.
“Sherry showed big improvement from week one to week two, but his receivers dropped a lot of passes and prevented the offense from finding the balance that Hauck is desperate to achieve.”
3. Do you think the Rebels are better than they were last year?
“I do think they¹re better than last year. For all the mistakes UNLV will have to endure from him, Sherry is an upgrade at quarterback, and his former roommate, freshman tight end Jake Phillips, could develop into a big-time weapon in the passing game. On the other side of the ball it¹s a little more difficult to tell. The defense hasn¹t given up a lot of points in regulation thus far, but they¹ve been helped by a lot of dropped passes. This secondary may be the weakest link, and so far the pass rush isn¹t good enough to counteract that.”
4. Is Bobby Hauck encouraged by anything he's seen this season?
“I think he absolutely is encouraged. It¹s been against weaker competition, sure, but UNLV was a few plays away from winning both of its first two games. Last year most of the losses, including a 41-16 drubbing by Division I-AA member Southern Utah, weren¹t even close. He says he really likes what the defense has been able to do thus far and even the naysayers would have to agree the team has made some strides. So far it just hasn¹t been nearly as much as most people, or Hauck, were hoping for.”
5. What's the atmosphere like at Sam Boyd Stadium?
“On Monday¹s conference call I heard one of the Washington State players mention coming down to a 'hostile environment' and I had to chuckle. If the rumors I¹ve heard about Cougars fans travel plans this weekend are true, they may equal the number of UNLV fans in attendance. Even if they don¹t, Sam Boyd is far from a tough place to play for opponents. Sure, a lot of that has to do with the home team on the field, but at each of the first two games the stadium was less than half full and it never gets particularly intimidating. Washington State¹s road woes may not apply to Las Vegas.”
Follow Taylor Bern on Twitter: @TaylorBern