Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 | 2:14 a.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.V. — The 2010 season has turned into a big mentoring session for the UNLV football team, with the veterans helping a bevy of true freshmen learn on the job.
Enter senior quarterback Omar Clayton.
"He was really down on himself afterwards, and I told him that in my first start, I had five turnovers against Colorado State," Clayton recalled. "You've just got to kind of bring the younger guys along. I told him you can't expect to have bad plays, and you have to hold yourself to a higher standard as far as ball protection. At the same time, mistakes will happen, and you've got to get past them."
Cornett, who made his first career start in the defeat, took the encouragement and made the fumble an isolated incident.
Of all the freshmen to see extended playing time this season for UNLV (1-5) — and there have been plenty — none have created the intrigue that the speedy Cornett has.
He came into Saturday with 16 carries, 107 yards and one touchdown under his belt in limited action as a reserve.
At West Virginia, against a defense that matched his speed almost completely across the board, the Houston-area native finished with 56 yards on the ground, 18 more on three catches and his second career score.
"I think it's real good. I think the coaches are doing it for a reason," Cornett said of his start. "I think they just want to give me that experience for next year. I'm liking it why they're liking it: I'm getting experience against good teams like this, and I'll do better next time."
Injuries throughout the rest of the running back corps set the table for Cornett, who found out on Monday that he would be starting.
"In practice, I worked harder to keep my starting spot," he said. "Just as hard as I did to earn it."
Cornett's biggest highlight was a 45-yard first-half gain, and despite his reputation as being a speedy finesse runner, he showed some toughness between the tackles that will likely keep him getting a heavy workload.
Payne's absence not a distraction
The big storyline coming into Saturday's game for UNLV was the suspension of junior receiver Phillip Payne after he made disparaging remarks about the program late in the week on his Twitter feed.
Teammates Omar Clayton and Calvin Randleman shot down any notion that it was a distraction for the team, not expanding much on those thoughts.
Coach Bobby Hauck, who said that Payne's status for next Saturday at Colorado State is still up in the air, gave some more insight.
"I asked a couple of the guys Thursday night when we got here if they knew he wasn't with us, and they didn't even know he wasn't with us, so that speaks volumes, I suppose, that they're pretty focused," he said.
Others, such as linebacker Starr Fuimaono, never saw the field.
Now there are a couple of more guys to keep an eye on in the coming week.
On a penalty-marred drive late in the second half, UNLV tight end Austin Harrington and receiver Marcus Sullivan were each helped off of the field after absorbing brutal hits on incomplete pass plays. Both incidents drew 15-yard personal foul flags against the Mountaineers.
Harrington was reportedly fine after the game, while Sullivan was taken to the hospital for X-rays of his chest and ribs, though he was released and flew back with the team on Saturday evening.
Numbers of note
• UNLV is now 0-9 all-time in games played in the Eastern time zone.
• Junior cornerback Will Chandler, who entered Saturday tied for the nation's lead in interceptions (4), did not start after arriving late for a team meeting this week. He returned after one series, registering just one tackle on the afternoon.
• Freshman linebacker Tani Maka, in his first career start, was one of four Rebels to register a team-high four tackles.
• An intriguing position switch which looks promising is that of junior Deante' Purvis, who moved a few weeks back from cornerback to running back in an effort to better utilize his combination of size and speed. Purvis registered 48 yards on 17 carries, consistently pushing piles forward at the line of scrimmage.