Analysis:

By the numbers: Inside the keys to UNLV football’s winning streak

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associated press

New Mexico’s cornerback Caleb Kimbro, right, has a hard time catching up to UNLV’s receiver Maika Mataele, left, in the first half Saturday evening Sept. 28, 2013, at University stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales)

UNLV vs New Mexico

UNLV's running back Tim Cornett scores another touchdown against the Lobos Saturday evening Sept. 28, 2013, at University Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales) Launch slideshow »

UNLV is not a great football team but the Rebels are looking more average by the day — and that's a good thing.

For UNLV (3-2, 1-0) to qualify for a bowl game this season, it needs to win the games when it’s the better team on the field. That’s all, because simply taking care of business — which they haven’t in the past — would yield positive results for the Rebels.

Now that they’ve done that through five games, there’s time to look around the rest of the league and realize that average may be good enough.

UNLV has this week off before hosting Hawaii (0-4, 0-2). Throw out games against Fresno State and Utah State and the Rebels host two teams that are a combined 2-6, plus they get to travel to Air Force, which is already 0-4 in league play.

That leaves only the Battle for the Fremont Cannon in Reno on Oct. 26, and in a year of streaks ending and starting for the Rebels, it would be appropriate that they end that eight-game skid. Not to say it will happen, but it would probably only require an average performance.

So how has UNLV gotten to this point? Let’s take a look at some of the key figures from the current three-game winning streak:

0 — Turnovers given up by senior quarterback Caleb Herring since he took over against Central Michigan.

Sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry had five interceptions and a lost fumble in a little less than two full games. Three of those interceptions were taken for touchdowns and Arizona returned the fumble to within the 10-yard line, scoring two plays later.

There’s no better place to start with this current winning streak than the play at quarterback, where Herring has surprised pretty much everyone outside of the Rebels’ locker room. And it’s not just that he’s a caretaker, either.

Herring hasn’t committed any turnovers but he’s also going out and making big plays. He’s thrown eight touchdowns over the past three games while completing 75.6 percent of his passes.

9 — Whole quarters without an enforced penalty against UNLV. That spans from the second quarter against Central Michigan to the fourth quarter of Saturday’s victory at New Mexico.

Last week against Western Illinois, the Rebels weren’t called for a penalty in an entire game for the first time in program history. They nearly did it again before a fourth-quarter hold erased a would-be first down that UNLV would eventually convert anyway.

There were a handful of penalties called during that span but none enforced, either because they were offsetting or the opponent declined it. New Mexico did that in the third quarter, declining an offensive pass interference call because it wanted UNLV to face third-and-11. The Rebels punted two plays later.

To put that penalty-free streak another way, the Rebels played approximately 149 minutes and 45 seconds of game action in between enforced calls.

28:00 — UNLV’s average time of possession over the three-game winning streak.

This may be one of the more surprising figures, because while something like Herring’s stats are impressively good, you’d figure he’d have to be playing well for UNLV to win. However, controlling the ball less than your opponent isn’t usually part of a victory, yet the Rebels have done it in three straight games.

They had the ball for exactly 29 minutes against Western Illinois and less than 28 in each of the other two victories. To a degree this is a credit to UNLV’s defense, although we should temper that considering the two awful first halves it has had during this stretch. Still, they’ve been out on the field longer three consecutive times and won all three, so they’re doing something right.

30 — Years since UNLV won four consecutive undisputed regular-season games. None of the current players were even born yet.

The Rebels last had four straight victories in 2000, winning their final three regular season games and the Las Vegas Bowl against Arkansas. And the 1984 squad, which was recently inducted into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame, went 11-2 with seven straight wins according to UNLV and NCAA records. However, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association recognizes UNLV’s record as 0-13 that season after the league ruled the Rebels used ineligible players.

In that case the streak goes back to 1983, when the Rebels won four in a row near the end of a 7-4 season. Thirty years later, UNLV has a chance to change that history.

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

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