Rebels football:

Marcus Sullivan’s return a big boon to UNLV’s offense

The Cheyenne High grad made his 2013 debut in grand fashion, helping the Rebels snap their 23-game road losing streak at UNM

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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 »

Junior receiver Marcus Sullivan’s 2013 debut for the Rebels today against New Mexico wasn't exactly a well-kept secret. Although coach Bobby Hauck said as recently as Wednesday there was no update on his status, reporters saw Sullivan take significant practice reps with the first team and many around the program all but confirmed his return.

So seeing him start for UNLV (3-2, 1-0) was not a surprise. What he did in the Rebels’ 56-42 victory against the Lobos at University Stadium, though, did catch several people off guard. Most of whom play defense for New Mexico (1-3, 0-1).

Although Sullivan dropped the first pass throw his way, which actually led to the only first-half punt for either team, he more than made up for it the next time he touched the ball. And every time after that.

All told Sullivan tallied 144 offensive yards, including 27 yards passing, 48 yards receiving and 69 on the ground, all of them on one carry that first put UNLV on the board.

“Oh my god, I’m glad he’s back. He’s an electrifying player,” said junior receiver Devante Davis. “He makes plays no matter where he is on the field.

“… He can turn the game, as you saw on that first touchdown.”

Sullivan took an end around hand-off from quarterback Caleb Herring and sprinted around the left side untouched down the sideline. That one-play drive cut the deficit to 14-7 jump-started the Rebels’ offense, which scored touchdowns on each of the next four drives. He actually had a large hand in the second scoring drive, too.

UNLV cornerback Tajh Hasson set it up by stripping the ball away from UNM receiver Marquis Bundy — the Lobos only nonscoring drive in the first half until a missed field goal in the final seconds — and setting the Rebels up with possession at New Mexico’s 34-yard line. The offense immediately called a double halfback pass that saw Sullivan take the second pitch and chuck it 27 yards downfield to receiver Anthony Williams. Running back Tim Cornett scored two plays later and the game was tied, however briefly.

“We already have a lot of weapons … but with Marcus back it adds another dimension that teams have to prepare for,” Herring said. “There are so many different things we can do with him out there.”

Sullivan missed the first four games because of a personal matter that Hauck has declined to discuss. Sullivan was unavailable for comment after the game.

Herring, who completed 24 of 34 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns, relied on Sullivan for several big plays. First, the obvious: After the Rebels’ lone penalty set up third-and-11 and nearly derailed their go-ahead drive, Herring connected with Sullivan for a 22-yard gain. Sullivan actually caught three of his four total passes on that drive.

But Sullivan was also a huge piece of Davis’ 10 catches for 164 yards and three scores. Davis spent most of his night in single coverage, something the Lobos were forced into by the threat of the running game and Sullivan.

“When Marcus gets our offense going like that it’s hard to ignore because he’s in the slot right next to Devante,” Herring said. “We take advantage of those matchups.”

Sullivan, a Cheyenne High grad, missed the entire 2011 season because of academic issues before coming back to be the team’s second-leading receiver in 2012. Whatever his issues are away from the field — and we do know it’s not a legal matter — Sullivan is a dynamic addition on it.

The secret’s officially out and UNLV is better for it.

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

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