Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
- Opponent: Wyoming
- Date: Sept. 26, 12 p.m. PST
- Where: Laramie, Wyo.
- TV: None
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
- The Line: UNLV by 5.5
What others are saying
Read what other writers are saying about UNLV's upcoming game against Wyoming:
- Casper Star-Tribune: Fresh Face: Christensen tabs Carta-Samuels as starting QB
- Wyoming Tribune: Wyoming is still adjusting to changes
- Casper Star-Tribune: Let the defense rest
- Laramie Boomerang: Offensive woes continue for the Cowboys
Sure, 1-2 Wyoming is who the schedule indicates the UNLV football team will take on this Saturday.
But Mike Sanford's 2-1 club is also fighting history.
Plain and simple, it's hard to ignore the fact heading into this game that the Rebels have dropped 19 consecutive road Mountain West Conference games dating back to the final season of the John Robinson era in 2004.
On paper, it looks as though UNLV should snap that skid Saturday afternoon in Laramie, Wyo.
But paper doesn't decide games, and neither do oddsmakers, who have set the Rebels as a 5 1/2-point favorite to start the week.
"To win on the road, you have to be mature," Sanford said Monday. "You have to have been through difficult moments and set goals and expectations for the future to win on the road. Now, obviously, I think the talent factor has been a factor in the past, but I also think maturity has been a factor in the past."
Focus ties in with maturity, and to see where that set the Rebels back in the past, one only has to look back as far as the last time Sanford took his team on the road in 2008.
It dropped a 42-21 decision to close last season at San Diego State, which entered the game at 1-10. UNLV had much more on the line that night, coming off two emotional victories over New Mexico and Wyoming to keep its postseason hopes alive. However, the Rebels instead ended the season 5-7 and home for the holidays.
Sanford said that almost a year later, he still has a hard time putting his finger on just what went wrong that night in Southern California, but he has a general idea.
"I think there was too much focus on bowl games, not enough on San Diego State," he said. "That's my perception from talking to the leaders on our team."
As the talent level at UNLV has consistently risen under Sanford, he feels the overall mental makeup of his team has, too. Of course, tangible evidence of that growth won't be fully available until after Saturday's conference opener.
The team's regular week-long fall camp trip to Ely not only prepares it for Wyoming in terms of playing at a high elevation (6,500 feet above sea level in Ely compared to 7,200 in Laramie), the trip into the mountains also sends home the message that going on the road isn't a time to have a vacation.
"That's been by design to get us more used to playing on the road," he said. "When you play on the road, it's not about comfort. It's about getting a job done and going to play, and I think (in the past) there's probably been a little bit too much expectation by immature players to have a good time on the road."
Wyoming's tough times
The aforementioned 'on paper' is mostly in reference to the Cowboys' offense, which has gone nine quarters since last reaching the end zone.
In scoring offense, Wyoming ranks 111th out of 120 FBS teams, and is 99th in total offense. Granted, eight of those quarters came against Big 12 competition, and four of those were against No. 2 Texas in a 41-10 loss.
Sanford is more than familiar with what first-year coach Dave Christensen did as the offensive coordinator at Missouri in his previous gig, saying he and his staff studied film of the Tigers. He also knows the struggles of trying to run a shotgun spread offense as a rookie coach with limited weapons.
"I think the whole transition from going from primarily a run offense to a spread offense is difficult," he said. "The hard thing is balancing out the scholarships, because you need more receivers."
The Cowboys announced Monday that true freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will make his first career start against the Rebels. He went 11-of-25 for 125 yards in reserve duty in last weekend's 24-0 loss at Colorado.
Senior receiver Rodelin Anthony, who has eight catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns through three games, is still doubtful for Saturday's game. In fact, after suffering a concussion against Hawaii on kick coverage, he might not make the trip to Wyoming.
Also potentially out is senior safety Marquel Martin, who started the Hawaii game and has eight tackles in three games. He also suffered a concussion, which wasn't detected immediately after the game.
Junior safety Alex De Giacomo is also questionable with a hamstring pull.
Thoughts on a long weekend for the league
The Mountain West Conference has made a reputation in recent years for performing well and turning heads in non-conference play.
Over the weekend, the league went an uncharacteristic 3-4, highlighted by BYU and Utah losing their undefeated statuses with losses to Florida State and Oregon, respectively.
"I was actually surprised at how our league did this weekend," Sanford said. "I expected Utah to beat Oregon, even though it was at Oregon. I really did think BYU was going to beat Florida State. I was shocked. Then, really, the other one that surprised me was San Diego State losing to Idaho."
Other than UNLV, only Colorado State and TCU were victorious in non-league contests.