Brad Horn / AP Photo
Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Alex Adeyanju clean up the last bits of UNLV's devastating 63-28 loss at UNR and spin it forward, as life gets no easier for the 2-3 Rebels in the coming weeks.
- Opponent: BYU
- Date: Oct. 10, 7 p.m.
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
RENO — UNLV junior linebacker Ronnie Paulo was asked after Saturday's 63-28 loss to rival UNR at Mackay Stadium if he felt more embarrassed or disappointed.
"I'd say a little bit of both," said Paulo, who had clearly shed some tears in the locker room. "I know we're better than that."
The truth is, both fit, and there are plenty more adjectives that could describe the humiliating performance, which dropped UNLV to 2-3 and turned up the heat on fifth-year coach Mike Sanford.
But the facts tell the story well enough.
Both the 773 yards of total offense and the 559 yards the Rebels surrendered on the ground to the Wolf Pack were the second-highest single-game totals allowed in each category in program history.
On top of that, UNR was 7-of-7 on third-down conversions, averaged 10.4 yards per offensive play and had three players run for at least 170 yards. The UNLV defense bit on play-fakes, allowed big yards on first downs regularly and made the Wolf Pack offense look nothing like the one that came into the annual rivalry showdown with an 0-3 record.
Asked how his defense could look so porous, Sanford offered a generally vague response.
"I won't answer that question," he said. "There's no excuse. I give (UNR) all the credit. They played well today; we didn't play well enough to win."
This came a week after Sanford put the blame for a 30-27 loss at Wyoming on the fact that the Rebels turned the ball over four times and didn't take any back from the Cowboys' offense.
Well, this time, UNLV won the turnover battle, 4-1. The offense even turned three of them into touchdowns.
The first three came in a surprising second quarter stumble by the Wolf Pack, which at one point led 21-7 and appeared to be in full control, with a maddened crowd behind it.
Then, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and tailback Luke Lippincott combined to lose three fumbles in roughly five minutes of game time, and UNLV capitalized with both a 39-yard touchdown pass from Mike Clausen to Jerriman Robinson and a one-yard touchdown run by Channing Trotter to tie the game at the break, 21-21.
However, UNR getting the ball out of the intermission was the only edge Chris Ault's club seemed to need.
It took the Wolf Pack eight plays and a little more than three minutes to take the lead with Mike Ball recording the fourth of his five touchdown runs. And although UNLV would tie it up once more, the Rebels simply didn't have enough firepower to last in a shootout, as UNR showed no signs of backing down. Negating the four turnovers by the Wolf Pack was the fact that the Kaepernick-led juggernaut never had to attempt a punt all afternoon.
The junior quarterback was seemingly invincible to UNLV defenders for the second consecutive year, throwing for 208 yards, running for 173 and accounting for two touchdowns, including the first TD reception of his career.
"Things kinda just went downhill for a little bit for us. We didn't come out ready in the second half," said safety Travis Dixon, who had three tackles and two forced fumbles. "It's the defense as a whole. It's 11 guys who need to make a play."
Added Clausen: "On offense, your goal is to score. But every time, it makes it kind of difficult. Still, it's our job to put points on the board, no matter what the score is."
UNR didn't do anything out of the ordinary late in the game to rub it in UNLV's face, but the holes through which to run seemingly got bigger and bigger as the margin grew wider and wider. The cherry on top came with the Wolf Pack's second-to-last score, with Ball, a Desert Pines High grad, needing five yards on a second-and-seven play to eclipse 100 yards for the afternoon.
Instead, he shot through a seam on the left side of the line, then lost UNLV safety Alex De Giacomo with his open-field speed en route to an 89-yard score.
"To lose is one thing," said Clausen, who at that point was done for the day and watching from the sideline. "But to kinda get your pride stepped on is another thing."
How much pride will UNLV have left next week when BYU comes to town? Well, that's the great unknown at this point, as the Cougars will bring an offense to Sam Boyd Stadium which is just as prolific as the one that ran roughshod over, through and around the battered Rebels on an otherwise pleasant Saturday afternoon in Reno.
The Rebels' once-promising season is now on the thinnest of ice — if any ice at all — and the same might be able to be said for Sanford's position as head coach, as he watched UNR celebrate by wheeling the Fremont Cannon off the field for the fifth consecutive year.
"That's the last thing I'm even thinking about," he said when asked about his job security. "All I'm thinking about is getting this team back and finding a way to beat BYU."
Also avoiding specifics on the issue was interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie, who stopped to speak with reporters before boarding the team bus.
"We have seven games to go, and again, we'll evaluate our program at the end of the year like we've always done in the past," he said. "We just gotta bounce back next week, play better, hopefully beat BYU at home."
He repeated the post-season evaluation statement later on when asked if recent events may force a mid-season evaluation, as conference heavyweights Utah, TCU and Air Force still remain on the slate, and all of whom are capable of delivering a morale-busting blow to a team that appears to be on the ropes in the middle rounds.
"Again," he said. "We still have seven games to go and can still have a very successful season."