UNLV football:

Rebels implode in season-opening walloping at Minnesota

UNLV’s numerous positives are lost in a 51-23 defeat that saw the Gophers score three return touchdowns in the second half

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson (9) runs for a 5-yard touchdown against UNLV defensive back Frank Crawford in the fourth quarter of their NCAA college football game in Minneapolis, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Minnesota defeated UNLV 51-23. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Rebels vs. Gophers

UNLV players Jake Phillips (46) and Tim Cornett are dejected during the fourth quarter against Minnesota during an NCAA college football game in Minneapolis, Thursday Aug. 29, 2013. Minnesota defeated UNLV 51-23. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King) Launch slideshow »

Bobby Hauck looked up at the scoreboard at one point in the fourth quarter Thursday night and saw his Rebels leading total yardage by nearly 200 yards and down more than 20 where it counts.

“Statistics are irrelevant,” said UNLV’s coach, and he has a 51-23 loss to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium to prove it.

New year, same mistakes and painfully familiar result. UNLV’s 2013 season started with a bang and crashed with a thud before the fourth quarter, leaving the Rebels to climb their airplane steps for a 23rd straight trip home as losers.

In the second quarter there were many plays that seemed so important at the time. A dropped pass. A questionable play call on second down. Those are things worth dissecting in a close game but they matter not in a beat down like the one Minnesota (1-0) laid on UNLV (0-1).

“The errors exploded into big plays,” said sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry, who finished 35-of-50 for 226 yards and a pair of both touchdowns and interceptions.

UNLV’s defense, so maligned over the past few years, was good. Not great but good enough to stay in the game, which at this stage is all you can ask of that group. They showed promise.

So, too, did the offense. Sherry completed 7-of-8 passes on his opening drive and Tim Cornett finished it with a 26-yard scamper basically untouched into the end zone.

But for every positive thing like that UNLV tossed on one side of a see-saw it heaped even more negative on the other side until the whole thing catapulted the team back to Las Vegas.

After Cornett’s score, kicker Nolan Kohorst’s extra-point attempt was blocked. After Sherry’s great fourth-down touchdown pass to Devante Davis in the second quarter, freshman Nicolai Bornand kicked the ball out of bounds.

Over the final 31:45, the Rebels were outscored 41-10 and the defense was only responsible for 20 of those. Even 14 of those points were meaningless to the result.

The rest is credited to UNLV’s offense and special teams, though how much falls on each side is a point of contention.

Hauck, the Rebels’ special teams coordinator during his entire tenure, made a point of calling field goal attempts an offensive function at UNLV. Whether you read that as a deflection of blame or simple statement of fact is up to you, because the bottom line is the Rebels allowed three return touchdowns that buried them. Dividing those up may be semantics because there’s plenty of blame to go around.

On Monday, Hauck called the low number of live reps for UNLV this fall a calculated risk designed to keep the team healthy. The decision to use only non-starters on special teams units, he said after the game Thursday, was also a risk.

Both of them blew up when a pair of freshman missed tackles on Minnesota’s kickoff return to open the second half. Ninety-eight yards later the Gophers had a 10-point lead. That return turned out to be the appetizer.

The main course was Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman blowing past long snapper Nick Gstrein to block Kohorst’s 37-yard attempt, which was picked up and taken in for a Gophers score. And as is usually the case Minnesota probably didn’t need dessert but it took a slice anyways with a red zone interception against Sherry that went 89 yards the other way.

The mishaps are why the Rebels can’t talk more about their defense playing competently. Or about the success of the offensive game plan to spread out the Gophers and pick them apart with short out routes.

Those are positives to build on, but when you’re talking about building on a 28-point loss what does that really mean? Certainly not that things are going in the right direction.

Hauck brought up freshmen making errors in key positions far too much for a fourth-year coach who put them in those spots. The excuses, much like the play on the field, are too familiar for Rebels fans.

“All that stuff we did pretty well,” Hauck said, “it doesn’t matter.”

This may be a new season but it sure feels like we’ve been here before.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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