Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.
The UNLV football team let one slip away.
The Rebels were denied bowl-eligibility for a second straight week today, falling 28-24 to visiting Utah State in a game where they had multiple chances to win.
Most of the damage was self-inflicted. Some of it questionable.
There will be plenty of second-guessing coach Bobby Hauck’s second quarter decision to attempt a fake field goal, opting to not take a sure-thing three points on a chip shot kick. Instead, kicker Nolan Kohorst was tackled for a loss, giving Utah State the ball and leaving three points on the field.
Those three points would have come in handy at the end of the game.
With less than a minute remaining and the Rebels trailing by four points, they drove the ball to inside the Utah State 20. If they would have converted a field goal earlier in the game, Kohorst could have been summoned to attempt a game-winner. Instead, they turned the ball over on downs, ending the game in disappointment.
That’s not the only missed opportunity.
On the initial drive of the second half, Rebel quarterback Caleb Herring was intercepted in the end zone trying to force the ball to his go-to receiver Devante Davis. Again, points left on the field.
Utah State was the better team, but UNLV played better.
The good news for UNLV is they have two more weeks to become bowl eligible, starting in 10 days at Air Force — one of the worst teams in the Mountain West. There were plenty of positives to take from the game, especially considering Utah State was the better teams — the Aggies were favored by 16 points.
UNLV will live to fight another dayy. The bowl berth will have to wait. But, mark my words, it will get done. This is the year the misery ends.
Here are some observations from the game:
Big blow to UNLV defense : The “next man up” philosophy is often used by football coaches when a player is injured. When one player goes down, the next player on the depth chart is inserted and the team doesn’t miss a beat. However, there is no replacement for this injured UNLV defender. Safety Frank Crawford suffered a knee injury at the end of the first half while breaking up a pass in the end zone, immediately grabbing his knee and laying in pain on the turf. No details of the injury were immediately available, but it is likely serious. He was helped directly to the locker room; not the sideline. He’s a transfer from Ole Miss, becoming eligible days before the season and bringing a big-play mentality to a defense in desperate need of a leader. He leads the Mountain West with four interceptions, is UNLV’s fourth leading tackler and plays with a swagger the Rebels’ desperately needed. Simply put, there is no replacing Frank Crawford. His absence created a major void in the second half, and possibly the rest of the season.
Third down struggles: When the Rebels needed a first down to extend a possession, they typically came up empty on third down plays. But when Utah State faced a third down, they converted. In a back-and-forth game, extending a possession by picking up a first down in key situations could have been the difference. UNLV was 5 of 15 on third down conversions; Utah State was 10 of 16 for 63-percent. Utah State won; UNLV was denied a bowl berth. Enough said.
The defensive line did its part : The Rebels defensive line brought pressure into the Utah State backfield most of the night, accounting for four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. Also, they helped limit Utah State to 152 rushing yards on 42 carries. Tyler Gaston led the charge with six tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Sonny Sanitoa had two tackles for a loss and a sack.
The pride of Chey-town a difference maker: This was vintage Marcus Sullivan. The junior wide receiver from Cheyenne High in North Las Vegas made plays tonight similar to his days on the local high school gridiron, stretching the field with his speed in the passing game and excelling in the return game. His night included a 10-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, a 75-yard kickoff return to setup a short field goal and a 39-yard reception to setup the Rebels’ second touchdown. Sullivan is always one of the fastest players on the field. On nights when he gets the ball in space, he’s sure fun to watch. More important, if he continues his good play, it gives the Rebels a solid second option in the passing game with Devante Davis.