Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 | 2 a.m.
If there is a word that best describes the 2011 edition of the UNLV football team, it may be resilient.
Despite having their road losing streak stretch to 14 games with a surprising 21-14 loss at New Mexico last weekend, the Rebels (2-7, 1-3 Mountain West) have rebounded with a good week of practice heading into another tough road contest at Air Force on Saturday.
The Falcons (5-5, 1-4), who actually rank below UNLV in the conference standings, will be celebrating Senior Day. Air Force, which has two wins over Football Bowl Subdivision schools, also needs to win its final two games against the Rebels and Colorado State to become bowl eligible. So there's little chance the Falcons will be overlooking UNLV.
"The energy out here is good," senior linebacker Nate Carter said. "Everyone is excited for another week of playing. I think that we've rebounded (from the New Mexico loss) pretty well."
UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, who has yet to board a plane after a road win in 12 tries, agreed.
"We'll see (Saturday) but we've had good practices," Hauck said. "Our guys have shown character and a good attitude about things. They're workers. We just need to work on Saturday.
Senior defensive end James Dunlap, who ranks fourth in the Mountain West in tackles for loss (9.0) including 4.5 sacks, said the team doesn't talk about the road losing streak.
"Nah, we don't even look at it," Dunlap said. "It's just football, you know what I'm saying? We put on our pads every weekend and try and get a win."
That figures to be a whole lot more difficult this week against Air Force's potent triple-option attack.
The Falcons, who have won eight of the last nine meetings against UNLV, including a 35-20 victory at Sam Boyd Stadium last year, lead the Mountain West and rank fourth nationally in rushing offense with an average of 310.4 yards per game. Air Force ran for 343 yards against the Rebels last year.
UNLV ranks third in the MWC in rushing defense, allowing 171.2 yards per game, but has yet to face an option attack like the one it'll see at Air Force. The Falcons present a whole set of different problems for the Rebels' defense, especially with their use of chop (cut) blocks — linemen or wide receivers diving at the ankles of an opposing defender.
"They're a real physical team and they like to cut, so we've got to play the cut and get to the ball," Dunlap said. "You've got to keep your hands low, eyes low and waist low. You've got to get your whole body low and then play the ball."
"You never get used to (chop blocks)," Carter added. "You just play the best you can and see what happens."
Because it's rare to face the triple-option anymore in these days of pass-happy offenses, many teams will spend part of fall camp or their bye weeks putting in extra preparation for it. But Hauck said that was not the case this season for UNLV.
"You never get enough time to prepare for it," Hauck said. "Some years you can play multiple teams that have a similar offense but that is not the case for us this year. We try to spend time on (Air Force) in training camp because their offense is so unique, but with having a young team this year, we didn't have the luxury of doing that."
So the first couple of series for the Rebels Saturday will be extra stressful for Hauck and company as his team tries to adjust to the speed Air Force runs its option.
"They always are (scary)," Hauck said. "You try to show the speed of the plays in practice and no one ever has any success. You try to simulate the cut-blocking and all the things they do really well but obviously your scout guys aren't going to show it as well in practice as their guys do it."
REBEL NOTES: Sophomore Caleb Herring, who was a late scratch at New Mexico while still recovering from a concussion suffered Nov. 5 against Boise State, is expected to start at quarterback for the Rebels. Hauck said junior backup Sean Reilly, who saw brief action at New Mexico in relief of freshman Taylor Barnhill, will play "only in an emergency" because he's still recovering from an undisclosed injury. … Air Force starting quarterback Tim Jefferson, who rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in last's year's win over UNLV, also is questionable after suffering a concussion in last week's loss to Wyoming. Backup Connor Dietz, who is not nearly as polished a passer as Jefferson, has rushed for 252 yards in six games this season, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. … Air Force is 6-1 all-time against the Rebels in Colorado Springs. UNLV's only win came in 2001 (34-10). … The Rebels, who played in snow and fog during their last trip to Air Force in 2009, will get a break with the weather this time around. The weather forecast is for sunny skies and a high of 54. Wind, however, could be a problem with gusts up to 40 miles per hour expected.