Rebels football:

All eyes on Cornett’s knee after UNLV’s 38-14 loss at Fresno State

The Bulldogs piled up yardage but the game never got completely out of hand. More important for UNLV is its senior running back’s health

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Fresno State’ quarterback Derek Carr (4) yells at the UNLV bench during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Fresno, Calif. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

UNLV vs Fresno State

Fresno State University President Joseph Castro and Athletic Director Thomas Boeh applaud Fresno State alumni Jerry Tarkanian during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Fresno, Calif. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian) Launch slideshow »

Tim Cornett set UNLV's career rushing record tonight in the third quarter. Eight plays later the senior running back was down on the turf at Bulldog Stadium clutching his right knee as the Rebels worried about losing much more than the game.

The final score, 38-14, was only as important as you wanted to make it. While it’s true the Rebels (4-3, 2-1) failed to win the game, that was never really on the table. No. 17 Fresno State (6-0, 3-0) is the best team in the Mountain West with a quarterback, Derek Carr, who took what he wanted from UNLV’s defense like he was shopping in the cereal aisle.

“They did what they do and they’re good at it,” said UNLV coach Bobby Hauck.

The score and some of the numbers, including the Bulldogs’ 641 total offensive yards, could be seen as gaudy. They could also be seen as the logical conclusions of a game featuring a high-powered offense that controlled the game but never completely blew out the Rebels.

After all, Carr eclipsed 10,000 career passing yards and became the school’s career touchdown passing leader in tonight’s game. This is par for the course.

“We had no illusions about who they are on offense,” Hauck said.

UNLV had some chances and it covered the 25 ½-point spread. That’s enough to be satisfied with from a UNLV fan’s perspective, except for Cornett’s health.

Obviously injuries are mostly out of the Rebels’ control but more important for them than keeping this game close was getting out healthy. That didn’t happen, and now it threatens the future.

“(Cornett)’s pretty optimistic about what it looked like,” said UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring, who finished 27-of-42 for 161 yards and a touchdown. “I really don’t know too much about what happened.”

Hauck said after the game he didn't know Cornett's status and it's unlikely we'll see much of an update before Tuesday's injury report.

Cornett broke Mike Thomas’ career rushing record on UNLV’s second possession of the second half. On their first possession the Rebels took over on the Bulldogs’ half of the field trailing only 28-14. A three-and-out quickly ended that and Fresno State countered with Carr’s fourth touchdown pass to Davante Davis, who finished with eight catches for 221 yards.

“That killed us,” Hauck said of the three-and-out.

Cornett was a big piece of the entire second drive for UNLV. He caught a short pass on the first play and broke the record with a six-yard carry on the second play. Cornett finished the game with 49 rushing yards, giving him 3,158 for his career.

On fourth and five at the Bulldogs’ 31-yard line, UNLV went for the conversion in order to keep pace. Herring completed another check down pass to Cornett, who was met by multiple defenders and took a hard hit near his right knee.

Cornett sat on the field as trainers looked at him and eventually helped him hobble off the field. He didn’t appear to put any weight on that right leg and could be seen with ice on his knee during the fourth quarter.

“It definitely was tough to see a senior leader like him go down,” said Herring, who spoke with Cornett a little bit on the sidelines. “… We took the next man up approach.”

Injuries may become a more serious issue for UNLV. Defensive lineman Sonny Sanitoa and receiver Marcus Sullivan also left the field at various points, and part of the offense’s problem was the hole left on the line by Nick Gstrein, who’s expected back soon from a leg injury he suffered early this season.

UNLV seemed like it could bounce back from this game no matter the score because of the calendar: it’s Reno Week. It would have been different had they not held on in an apparently T-Shirt-worthy victory last week against Hawaii, but Nolan Kohorst’s kick salvaged that one.

This was always going to be a setback because the Bulldogs are simply the better team. Cornett’s injury, though, changes things. His ability not only to play but also to play at as close to 100 percent as possible is crucial to UNLV’s chances moving forward.

“Tim’s a tough guy so I’m really not too worried about it,” Herring said.

If Cornett is OK then the offensive takeaway from this game is the Rebels’ failure to handle Fresno State’s blitz packages and how it plans to bounce back against UNR (3-4, 2-2). But if he’s not OK?

In that case the Rebels’ story would have shifted dramatically tonight. Because although backups Shaquille Murray-Lawrence and Adonis Smith have talent, they’re not on par with the program’s all-time leading rusher.

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

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