Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 | 9:03 p.m.
- Take 5: UNLV trying to duplicate effort of 2002 Rebels against Colorado State
- This could be the week the Rebels break through on the road
- Rebels capture winning feeling with dominating victory against New Mexico
- Take 5: Getting ready for Saturday’s must-win game against New Mexico
- Mountain Best: League has a few tricks and treats left heading into November
- Rebels trying to ignore poor record and finish strong, starting with New Mexico
- All UNLV Football Coverage
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Whatever momentum UNLV had after dispatching New Mexico last week disappeared Saturday night after the first turnover that Colorado State returned for a touchdown. Or maybe it vanished after the second time the Rams did that. Perhaps it even hung on until CSU scored easily on a short field following yet another Rebels giveaway.
Whenever it went away, it’s not coming back this season, not after an embarrassing 33-11 loss to Colorado State (3-7, 2-4) in a game that was over by halftime. This game, and particularly that start that saw the Rams jump out to a 21-0 lead without having to drive more than 19 yards, left UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, let’s say, aggravated.
“I’ve got other words in my vocabulary that aren’t fit for print,” Hauck said. “… Nobody overcomes that, even the best teams don’t overcome that and we aren’t one of the best teams.”
UNLV’s hopes to finish these last four games strong and make positive strides going into the offseason went up in the smoke from the Rams’ celebratory cannon and fireworks after each score. The cannon’s boom rattled Hughes Stadium, sending a shockwave through the announced attendance of 13,887 (that in reality was a little more than half that).
This game meant little to the outside world. It was a battle of bottom-feeders searching for something positive. Both sides came in believing it was winnable, which was probably accurate. Colorado State had only defeated Colorado and Hawaii this season, and UNLV (2-9, 2-4) now has a road losing streak (21) that matched the postgame temperature. That said, only the Rams played like they had something to fight for.
“We came in with the mantra that we determine the outcome,” first-year CSU coach Jim McElwain said. “We do, no one else.”
UNLV freshman quarterback Nick Sherry’s day started with a completion for a loss of six yards and ended with a thud to the frozen turf. In between he threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and completed 40 percent of his passes in the worst performance of his young career.
His status going forward is uncertain as Sherry exited the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent head injury. Linebacker Max Morgan came through the line and grabbed Sherry by both legs, snapping the quarterback’s head down against a surface hardened by the frigid temperatures. Junior Caleb Herring finished the game at quarterback. Sherry was unavailable for comment after the game.
Two of his turnovers, the first interception and the fumble, led directly to points for the Rams. The interception was an off-balanced throw on a screen play that defensive end Shaquil Barrett returned the 49 yards for the first score of the game. His fumble led to a short field, 19 yards, that the Rams covered in two plays.
“You can’t gift wrap a game like that,” Hauck said.
There’s some bad luck involved with having turnovers returned for scores, but it can’t happen if you don’t give it away in the first place. It’s unlucky that Sherry’s pass and Bradley Randle’s fumble in the second quarter both found their way into the hands of Rams with nothing but space in front of them. In a situation like this, though, UNLV has to create its own luck, and that includes holding on to the ball.
“Turnovers killed us,” junior running back Tim Cornett said. “… Nobody’s won a game with a lot of turnovers like that.”
It didn’t help that UNLV strived for a balanced offense when the run was clearly working better than the pass. Cornett eclipsed 100 yards for the eighth time this season and he was averaging more than six yards per carry at halftime. Still, at that point he had fewer rushes than Sherry had pass attempts despite the fact Sherry was just 6-of-17 with those two interceptions. One reason the Rebels may not have hammered the run, besides being down, was that Randle’s night ended with that turnover early in the second quarter. He finished with three carries for five yards and was either benched for coughing it up or may have been hurt on the play.
UNLV’s defense really didn’t play that poorly in the first half, though the scoreboard didn’t show it. They gave up a long drive on the first possession but turned the Rams away with an interception. The only scores they gave up when the game was still within reach were the two-play touchdown drive and a long field goal just before halftime.
CSU freshman quarterback Conner Smith, and yes, he’s a backup, finished 16-for-27 for 109 yards and running back Donnell Alexander had a career night with 139 rushing yards and two scores. It was the Rams’ defense, though, that did the heavy lifting, with a lot of credit due to UNLV for turning it over.
The Rebels didn’t score until the fourth quarter, which is especially notable considering CSU came in giving up 32 points per game. They should have at least had a chance to end the road losing streak because unlike the previous road games this season UNLV and CSU are on the same level. The Rebels may even be more talented, though this outcome certainly suggests otherwise.
There was still a chance to do something positive with the end of this season for UNLV. On Saturday night the Rebels gave that away.