AP Photo/Colin E. Braley
Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
PROVO, Utah — Just when you thought the lows couldn't get any lower, UNLV's football team hit rock bottom on Saturday afternoon.
Or at least first-year coach Bobby Hauck hopes this is the bottom.
"It better be," he said following a 55-7 shellacking at the hands of struggling BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium. "I'm just bitterly disappointed right now."
In the wake of easily the most lopsided loss of a frustrating 2010 season, Hauck held maybe his most insightful post-game press conference.
He stated the obvious in that several things that can be controlled have to change. But he also tossed himself into that category.
"Frankly, I don't think we have enough toughness on our team — in particular, mental toughness," he said. "And that starts with the head coach not being tough enough. I have got to improve myself, and we're going to spend the next 10 months developing toughness on our football team, because when things go wrong for us, we have a tendency to let them snowball on us.
"And that's not good, because we don't have the ability when things start to go the wrong direction to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make things happen."
Hauck refused to say that his team quit on a sunny, warm afternoon in Provo, but it was clear that it didn't take long for the Rebels to take on the look of a defeated team.
Senior quarterback Omar Clayton threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, however, the UNLV defense showed some resolve in forcing an eye-opening three-and-out on BYU's subsequent series.
After that, positives were few and nearly non-existent.
The Cougars (4-5 overall, 3-2 Mountain West Conference) would have the ball five more times before the half, scoring touchdowns to cap each possession.
Meanwhile, UNLV (1-8, 1-4) featured an offense that sputtered, to say the least.
The Rebels totaled only 73 yards in the first half, and before a 70-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes, would post just one yard of offense in an uninspired second half performance.
Ultimately, it was just more of the same for UNLV on the road, who entered Saturday's action 0-4 away from Sam Boyd Stadium, losing those games by an average margin of 30.8 points.
On the other hand, BYU broke out from a season of offensive frustrations, clearly relishing ever second of it.
The Cougars had not scored more than 25 points in a game all season entering Saturday. They posted that against the Rebels just over five minutes into the second quarter.
BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps came into the game against UNLV having completed only 52.2 percent of his passes, with two touchdown passes and seven interceptions to his credit. He turned in a career day, going 19-of-31 for 294 yards, two TDs and no picks.
The highly-touted teenager celebrated with his linemen after seemingly every completion and was able to rejoice some more in the fourth quarter, watching the final 15 minutes from the sidelines.
The Cougars' season was somewhat reborn, as a shot at bowl eligibility now looks much clearer. Their next two games come against a pair of beatable league foes at Colorado State and at home versus New Mexico. They'll close against Utah, whose perfect season was ruined earlier in the day by apparently BCS-bound TCU, 47-7, down the road in Salt Lake City.
Across the field, Hauck couldn't help but think ahead to 2011, as 2010 becomes gradually tougher to watch week-to-week and the finish line draws closer.
After dropping his "spend the next ten months developing toughness" line, Hauck, who has repeatedly said that his focus is on this season and winning games, was asked if looking to 2011 takes on more of the focus.
"Absolutely," he said. "There's no reason to do anything else, and as I've said, I want our seniors to enjoy their last month of football, but we need to move forward with improving our program, because it isn't good enough."
Of the major questions moving forward, maybe the most talked-about will be how Hauck and his staff handle their quarterback situation.
For the fifth time in nine games, Clayton was lifted in favor of redshirt freshman quarterback-of-the-future Caleb Herring due to ineffectiveness.
Clayton played some in the second half, and on the same field where he threw for 350 yards in a narrow defeat two years ago, he was 3-of-8 for 13 yards and an interception.
Herring led the touchdown drive at the end, finding fellow frosh Marcus Sullivan for his first career score, and that made his stat line look a little brighter. He was still only 8-of-21 for 109 yards, the TD and an interception of his own.
At several other positions, though, injuries have left the Rebels weak, exposed and depth-challenged.
Hauck said part of making his team tougher this season will most likely not include cranking up practice intensity too much, as he can't afford to lose many more bodies. UNLV appears set to limp toward the end making the most of what it's got.
In other words, 2010 cannot end soon enough.
"We're playing a lot of young guys and a lot of walk-on guys. It's just where we are," Hauck said. "I need to knuckle down and we need to make this a hard-nosed outfit.
"Bailing wire and duct tape is holding us together right now and, unfortunately, that's the way it looks on the field, too."
• BYU finished with 516 yards of total offense compared to 144 for UNLV. The Cougars were also 11-of-17 on third downs and held the Rebels to a 3-of-14 showing in that department.
• Despite the Cougars' struggles in 2010, the announced attendance was a impressive 61,283.
• BYU got a little chippy late after UNLV senior safety Alex De Giacomo was given a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cougars back-up running back David Foote. Foote was down for several minutes, and De Giacomo went to coach Bronco Mendenhall to offer up an apology.
• In his second game back off of a two-game suspension for disparaging comments made on his Twitter feed, junior receiver Phillip Payne was again not heard from much. After posting only two catches for 26 yards in a 48-6 loss to TCU, he was held to one catch for 16 yards against BYU.
• Sullivan had the aforementioned 24-yard touchdown to cap his first game back from a chest injury suffered against West Virginia back on Oct. 2. The speedy Cheyenne High product also averaged 33.8 yards on four kick returns. Hauck values special teams greatly, and in that regard, Sullivan has been one of the Rebels' steadiest contributors.