Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 | 4:36 p.m.
You can’t blame the UNLV football team for its 34-24 loss today to visiting San Jose State.
The Rebels (5-4) get a pass because of what they’ve already accomplished this season, especially in beating rival UNR last week for the first time in eight seasons to win back the Fremont Cannon. That fresh coat of red paint sure looks nice, right Rebel fans?
They also get a pass for their performance in the second half, erasing a 21-point halftime deficit to cut the lead to just one touchdown in the fourth quarter. After a sluggish start, and no real pressure to win in the wake of beating rival UNR, the Rebels showed why this season is different by rallying.
I’m surely not the only one who was impressed with the second half — they dominated on both sides of the ball in the third quarter and played with emotion.
UNLV entered needing just one victory in its remaining four games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000, knowing win or lose against San Jose State, three winnable games remain.
They performed like a team playing with house money in the first half, ultimately creating too big of a hole to climb out of. There was a lack of focus, the players were obviously tired and they didn’t put up much of a fight.
While they deserve praise for making things interesting in the second half, they also deserve some criticism for allowing an evenly matched opponent to enjoy success.
Still, it’s hard to fault the players. The season, depending on whom you talk with, will be classified a success regardless of what happens the rest of the way. It’s hard to get motivated when that’s the mindset.
Let’s classify the San Jose State loss as the ‘Reno Hangover.’ After a week of feeling really good about themselves for accomplishing the long overdue task of finally beating UNR, and spending part of the week enjoying the win, a letdown against San Jose State was expected. But the letdown lasted just one half, however, in a true sign of the program’s growth.
Good things are happening with UNLV football. It’s a going to be an entertaining end to the season — which should include one more game than originally scheduled.
Here are some more observations:
Bowl eligibility still within reach: Let’s not hit the panic button — UNLV will grab win No. 6 to become bowl eligible sooner than later. The remaining three games are each winnable, especially Nov. 21 at one-win Air Force. UNLV will have 12 days to prepare for the Thursday night game on the road and will have confidence from beating Air Force last season. It’s the Rebels' best chance at reaching the postseason but not their only chance. The other two games — Nov. 9 against Utah State and Nov. 30 against San Diego State — are both at Sam Boyd, where UNLV clearly plays better.
Shame on you, Rebel fans: Someone jokingly posted on Twitter last night about how UNLV is becoming a football school. The basketball team, which is all most supporters care about, lost an exhibition game to Division II Dixie State last night to cause a minor panic in Rebel Nation. The football team, fresh off its Fremont Cannon victory at UNR, appeared to have more support than at any time in recent memory. People were supposedly on the bandwagon. That makes an announced attendance of 15,837 hard to believe. It was a picture-perfect fall afternoon, and the game wasn’t televised. So, where were the supporters? UNLV will never regularly sell out Sam Boyd Stadium, but hitting 20,000 fans each game shouldn’t be a problem. They have two remaining home games to become bowl eligible. I’m guessing a few extra bodies in the stands cheering for the scarlet and gray would be appreciated.
Too much Herring: Quarterback Caleb Herring finished with 55 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, trying everything in his power to lead the Rebels back from a three-touchdown deficit. It was a valiant effort from the Rebels’ leader on offense. But there’s one problem — Herring put himself in harm’s way too many times in fighting for extra yards. Coaches need to protect the team’s most important offensive weapon and instruct him to get out of bounds or slide to safety. Although his desire to win has become contagious with teammates, UNLV can’t afford an injury to its signal caller. It’s better to err on the side of caution.
Cornett’s rough day: Senior running back Tim Cornett, the all-time rusher in UNLV history, and one of the reasons why the Rebels are in the middle of their best season in years, had one of the worst games of his storied career. He carried the ball 12 times for just 24 yards, struggling to get going all game. He was stuffed near the goal line in the first half and never was a factor. For the Rebels to be good, Cornett has to get back to his 100-plus-yard rushing ways. He has the talent to carry the Rebels to a bowl and is motivated to do so.