AP Photo/The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Rich Abrahamson
Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008 | 9:55 p.m.
- UNLV sports blog about Rebels athletics
- Judgment Days: Commentary from UNLV linebacker Jason Beauchamp
- Shark Bytes: Legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian shares his thoughts
Beyond the Sun
- The Coloradoan: Rams win another one in the final seconds (10-4-2008)
- The Coloradoan: Rams defense faces new test in Rebels' style of spread offense
- Rocky Mountain News: Johnson runs for 191 yards in CSU's 41-28 win (10-4-2008)
- Rocky Mountain News: CSU looks to move ball past suspect UNLV defense
- The Denver Post: Rams' rally rips Rebels (10-4-2008)
- The Denver Post: Walk-on QB working out fine
- Opponent: Air Force
- Date: Oct. 18, 7 p.m.
- Where: Las Vegas
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Combine the staggered start on offense, the defense breaking down in the game's final six minutes and the fact that a surprising and optimism-inspiring 3-1 start is now a sputtering 3-3 mark at the season's midway point.
With all of that on the plate, no one summed up the feeling in the UNLV locker room Saturday following a 41-28 loss at Colorado State better than sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton.
"It sucks today, it's gonna suck tomorrow and when you get there on Sunday (for practice) it's time to get over it," Clayton said. "Colorado State, it's officially over. There's no more time left on the clock. You just get over it and start practicing and preparing for the next opponent."
And just as was the case a week ago after Nevada-Reno exposed glaring UNLV weaknesses, the Rebels have plenty to correct before taking on Air Force at Sam Boyd Stadium. The catch? The Rebels have two weeks to sit on this one with the bye week on the horizon.
CSU senior running back Gartrell Johnson mauled the UNLV defense to the tune of 191 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries, highlighted by a 10-yard touchdown run up the middle with nine seconds left in the game. The game's final score came during an impromptu lateral-fest the Rebels tried in an effort to find some daylight on the final play. The ball was fumbled away, scooped up and returned by John Mosure for a little extra dash of salt in the growing wound.
"I'm real concerned," defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell said of his unit's performance, one which yielded 510 yards of total offense. "Right now we've got some guys that aren't stepping up making plays that they were earlier. I've got to find out why and I've got to get it fixed, whether we've got to change the scheme or change the people."
The story of this game will center on the defense, and, most notably, a 12-play, 80-yard drive the Rams ripped off during the game's final 6:05.
It took UNLV's offense a little longer than normal to get going in Fort Collins, despite the early 14-3 edge the Rebels constructed. The Rebels' second touchdown — a three-yard Clayton pass to Casey Flair — came off of a muffed fumble return on the heels of their first score: a 13-yard Ryan Wolfe run.
After that, though, came 27 unanswered CSU points. The Rams did so by doing the two things UNLV coach Mike Sanford said all week he'd anticipate them doing - running the ball hard with Johnson and taking shots deep down the field with quarterback Billy Farris.
Still, though, the offense put the Rebels in a position to win late in the game. The ground game finally got going, as Frank Summers scored on a one-yard run with 12:56 to play, pulling UNLV within six at 27-21. Then, at the 6:05 mark, Clayton escaped a blitzing Jeff Horinek, rolled right and found Jerriman Robinson for the go-ahead score from 21 yards out.
Then, with CSU having an opportunity to milk out the rest of the clock and squeak out a win, everyone knew what was coming: Johnson, Johnson and more Johnson.
He had nine carries on the drive for 49 yards, and UNLV, having burned two timeouts earlier in the second half, couldn't halt things long enough to catch its breath.
"You've got to capitalize and make plays when it counts," said junior linebacker Jason Beauchamp, who led UNLV with 12 tackles. "On the defensive end, we didn't make plays when it counted. We don't want to put ourselves in that position, we don't want to have our backs against the wall like that.
"We're gonna be watching that (drive) a lot and make some changes."
The mantra for this defensive unit coming into the season was that under Therrell, it would preach an attacking style. Though attacking doesn't guarantee success. Saturday was proof of that.
"I think we were attacking, but we weren't executing the way we needed to," Sanford said. "We were calling things to attack, but we weren't able to get some sacks, missed some tackles and that sort of thing. We were an attacking defense; we just didn't get the job done today."
Despite a decent amount of zone blitzing, UNLV registered just three quarterback hurries and two sacks (one of which was on the first half's final play) against the CSU pass attack. In return, Farris had plenty of time to work downfield. It took the fifth-year senior just 15 pass completions to throw for 294 yards and a score. Eight of those completions (and 211 of those yards) went to Mojave High product Rashaun Greer, who highlighted his day with a 46-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter.
Even with the result, which will be tough to swallow, there were a couple of positives to come out of the Fort Collins experience for UNLV: Mainly on the offensive side of the ball.
The Rebels continue to finish regularly in the red zone. They're now 18-of-18 this season when getting inside the opponents' 20-yard line, with 15 of those being touchdowns.
Summers, coming off of a forgettable nine-carry, 20-yard showing against UNR, finished with 109 yards and a score on 20 totes.
As for Clayton, he continued to put up solid numbers. His 173 yards through the air also produced two touchdown passes, giving him 14 TD tosses to just two interceptions on the year.
But Clayton was also among the first to mention that this loss can't be blamed solely on the defense.
"We've just got to do everything we can to score points," he said. "We kind of waited a little bit too long to start scoring, and the defense could have played better. It's on both sides of the ball.
"We need a bye. We need time to rest; we can use the break."
The defense, though, was hard not to talk about outside of the locker room as the team boarded the buses. Sanford was even asked whether his team can win any more games with the defensive unit playing the way it is.
"We're going to have to find a way," he said. "I don't ever believe that we don't have a chance to win. I would never say that because we've got a lot more football to play. We're halfway through the season."
And the Rebels will need a second half that, at the very least, mirrors the first just to gain bowl eligibility — something that appeared to be a potential slam dunk just two weeks ago at 3-1 on the heels of back-to-back victories over Arizona State and Iowa State.
One thing the Rebels are being very clear on is that they don't want to believe the second half of this season will play along with the stretch runs from previous years.
Now they've got two weeks to figure out the technical side to avoiding it.
"There's not gonna be a tailspin," Flair said. "This team is not like years past. We're not going to put our heads down and go down the drain. We have six more games, we're 3-3, we're still halfway to a bowl game, that's where our mindsets at."