Andy Clayton-King / AP
Published Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 | 3 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 | 7:26 p.m.
Minnesota 51, UNLV 23
UNLV's 2013 season has started with a feeling so familiar to Rebel fans. Same result, too.
The Rebels outgained the Gophers by 100 yards — and it was way more lopsided when the yardage still mattered — but 21 points scored against their offense and special teams was far too much to overcome.
Getting scored on just before halftime seems so much less egregious now. That's because it was followed by a kickoff return, blocked kick return and interception return, all for touchdowns. Minnesota didn't play that much better than UNLV on offense and defense but the Gophers dominated special teams and did a better job capitalizing on mistakes in the other two phases.
UNLV scored on its first drive of the game. There was promise, and in a way there still is because the defense actually played well. The offense mostly did what it's supposed to do. Those errors, though, were so bad that all of that is moot tonight.
It was another ugly loss, something UNLV fans are all too familiar with.
Minnesota 37, UNLV 16
10:41 remaining in the fourth quarter
UNLV has now moved from desperation mode to fully cooked. On third down in the Gophers' red zone, Briean Boddy-Calhoun jumped Nick Sherry's pass and took it 89 yards the other way for a score.
Any questions about the outcome are over and Sherry's otherwise solid game — 33-of-45 for 218 yards and a TD before that pass — now has a big blemish. This is the final nail but the coffin was all but shut before that drive.
Minnesota 30, UNLV 16
End of the third quarter
UNLV answered Minnesota's blocked field goal return with a made field goal that at least gives the Rebels something to build on.
I know it's not even the fourth quarter but I wanted to see UNLV go for the first down or touchdown there. Too much is going against them for a field goal to be enough at this point. It seems like they can't decide whether to go for broke or play to stay in the game, and that indecision isn't going to be good enough at this stage.
Minnesota 30, UNLV 13
7:36 remaining in the third quarter
That probably does it. One special teams score is hard to overcome. Two is nearly impossible unless everything else is going right, and that's not the case for UNLV.
Nolan Kohorst's 37-yard field goal attempt was easily blocked and scooped up for a 51-yard touchdown. The ball rolled several yards towards midfield where the Gophers grabbed it and took off.
This looks awfully familiar for UNLV. Emphasis on awful.
Minnesota 23, UNLV 13
14:48 remaining in the third quarter
I just talked about giving up scores on the final drive of the first half. What's worse? Compounding that by giving up a score on the second-half kickoff. That's what.
UNLV is now facing a major uphill climb after Marcus Jones went 98 yards for a score on Minnesota's kickoff return. If the offense answers right away maybe the Rebels will be in this for the long haul. If they don't? This one could be over before the fourth quarter.
Minnesota 16, UNLV 13
The opponents' final drive before halftime was often a disaster for UNLV last season. Today is more of the same.
UNLV tried to move the ball instead of run out the clock in the final two minutes, a decision I agree with if that matters, and punted the ball to Minnesota with decent field position. The Gophers took the ball and made a nice drive that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Phillip Nelson to Maxx Williams.
Nelson juked and dived his way to the majority of the yards with designed draws and passes he pulled down to run. Good teams score before halftime, which means it's the bad teams that give up those scores. UNLV has played well overall today but that was a big problem for them last year and it's one of a few struggles they've had so far today.
Others include strange play-calling in short yardage situations, not keeping contain on Nelson and letting the Gophers get just out of their reach on some plays that could have been huge for the Rebels. It wasn't a bad half — they're only down three, after all — but UNLV needs almost everything to go right to pull this one out. So far there hasn't been enough of that.
UNLV 13, Minnesota 10
5:04 remaining in the second quarter
UNLV is sure making this exciting. Not only did Nick Sherry complete a 34-yard touchdown pass across his body just before getting hit, it was the Rebels' second fourth-down conversion of the drive.
The first time Tim Cornett moved the sticks, and when it came up again, this time fourth and 6 and the 34, Sherry rolled to his right to buy time and released the ball just before getting flattened. Devante Davis beat his defender to the middle of the field to haul in the pass right at the goal line.
UNLV has already blown some chances and those missed opportunities could come back to haunt them, but right now they're making just enough go their way to have a lead. And in general it's been pretty fun to watch, too.
Minnesota 10, UNLV 6
13:45 remaining in the second quarter
The Rebels didn't touch Phillip Nelson until he was inside the 10-yard line and by then there was nothing they could do. Minnesota takes the lead on Nelson's 48-yard touchdown run after a play action to the running back.
The drive took all of 31 seconds after UNLV came up short when Nolan Kohorst's 49-yard field goal fluttered wide right. First Nelson connected on a rollout with his tight end for a first down, then the quarterback got UNLV's front seven to bite on the play action and beat the well-blocked secondary into the end zone.
UNLV can't afford to waste any more chances right now. After coming out on fire they're making some poor decisions that could allow this game to get out of hand.
UNLV 6, Minnesota 3
End of the first quarter
UNLV has a lead and it's already used a hook and ladder play, so I'm not really sure what to think at this point.
Nick Sherry, who is 14-of-16 for 88 yards, is making his living on short out routes. It's a plan UNLV obviously came in with and Minnesota doesn't have an answer for yet.
That lateral, though. On second and 6, Devante Davis caught a pass surrounded by two defenders and flipped it to Tim Cornett for a first down. Cornett was forced out of bounds, otherwise he could have gone all the way in. It's interesting to see the Rebels bust out that type of play so early. Hopefully it means there will be plenty more of that type of play.
UNLV 6, Minnesota 3
2:39 remaining in the first quarter
Minnesota took advantage of a short field and got on the board with a 25-yard field goal. The Gophers got as close as the two-yard line before a fumbled snap sent them back close to the 10.
It's impressive UNLV held its ground though in truth the final result seemed more like Minnesota errors than Rebels good plays. The Gophers started with the ball at UNLV's 40 after nearly blocking Logan Yunker's punt. They had taken advantage of that position well up until the end, though they still managed to put points up.
UNLV 6, Minnesota 0
9:48 remaining in the first quarter
Nick Sherry completed 7 of his first 8 passes on a methodical drive that put UNLV in the end zone the first time it touched the ball in 2013. Tim Cornett picked up a fourth-down conversion early in the drive and finished it off with a 26-yard touchdown run.
The Rebels lined up in a spread formation on that final play and absolutely no defenders stayed in the middle of the field to prevent Cornett from basically walking in as soon as he got past the line of scrimmage.
This drive was about Sherry, who connected on a lot of short passes mostly on out routes. Clearly the Rebels saw something they liked with that look and kept going back to it with a lot of success.
Rebels down another receiver
Starting receiver Marcus Sullivan stayed back in Las Vegas and will not play today for the Rebels against Minnesota. No reason was immediately available.
The Rebels are also without freshman Kendal Keys, who hasn't been cleared academically.
Today, perhaps for the last time this season, no one can call you crazy for believing in this Rebels football team. Sure, oddsmakers are spotting Minnesota two touchdowns, but they’ve been wrong before, and plenty of sharps like the plus money today when the Rebels and Gophers kick off at 4 p.m. in TCF Bank Stadium on the Big Ten Network.
There’s enough uncertainty surrounding both teams, particularly UNLV, that almost anything seems possible today. A shootout seems likely, but would anyone really be surprised if two teams that combined for only 26 points in regulation in last year’s game slogged it out again?
As I noted yesterday, the biggest question for me is how the Rebels’ secondary holds up. Everything else likely won’t be enough if they’re still getting beat on simple pass patterns.
However, if that group is even decent today, I wouldn’t count UNLV out of this. Despite the struggles I’ve seen, the coaching staff seems convinced Nick Sherry is going to have a great sophomore season. Tim Cornett is still great, and he has plenty of legs in support behind him, too.
Minnesota quarterback Phillip Nelson has even less experience than Sherry, so I suppose the Rebels have an advantage there. But again, the Minnesota defense will likely be more of a challenge for Sherry than the Rebels will be for Nelson.
If I’m wrong about that, UNLV should at least have a chance in the fourth quarter to snap its 22-game road losing streak. Considering they’re on the road against a decent Big Ten team, that would be a decent start.
Bern’s prediction: I have yet to see someone come out and say they’re laying the points today. While I agree on paper that UNLV seems very capable of at least finishing within two touchdowns, I’m going with the contrarian play and a frustrating start for the Rebels. Minnesota 37, UNLV 20