Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Sept. 5, 2010 | 2:30 a.m.
- Box Score: Wisconsin 41, UNLV 21
- Instant analysis: Despite loss, Hauck has Rebels headed in right direction
- Notebook: Starter at QB for Utah game to be decided this week
- Ground game key for Wisconsin in rout of UNLV
- Live Game Blog: Wisconsin grinds UNLV down en route to 41-21 victory
- All Sun UNLV football coverage
Ryan Greene, Ray Brewer and Case Keefer talk about the highs and lows from UNLV's 41-21 setback against No. 12 Wisconsin to start both the 2010 football season and the Bobby Hauck era.
- Opponent: Utah
- Date: Sept. 11, 1 p.m.
- Where: Salt Lake City
- TV/Radio: The Mtn./ESPN 1100 AM
Well, it was really just one major red flag from the halftime stat sheet.
Total offensive yards: Wisconsin 279, UNLV 12.
Junior cornerback Will Chandler made two huge defensive plays to keep the Rebels neck-and-neck with the Badgers on the scoreboard for a half, but a lack of offensive flow and some holes in defending the run ultimately did UNLV in in its first game under Bobby Hauck, 41-21.
"We made a couple of plays to get ourselves back in it, but they came out and took the game in the third quarter, and we just weren't good enough to beat them," Hauck said afterward. "If you can't move the chains and you can't keep them from doing it ... Frankly, if you have 15 (offensive) plays, which I think is what our number was in the first half, you don't have rhythm on offense. So you have to get some drives, have to generate some offense, or there is no rhythm."
Wisconsin's brawn and mobility on both the offensive and defensive lines set the tone in the first half, as the Badgers moved the ball effectively on the ground when they had the ball, then collapsed the pocket around UNLV quarterback Mike Clausen at will when they didn't.
The Badgers scored the old-fashioned way on their first two drives, milking the clock with the ground attack while mounting a quick 14-0 lead in front of a crowd of 31,107 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Rebels needed some defense to draw first blood, though, as Chandler made his first strike by jumping an out-route by his receiver and picking off a Scott Tolzien pass, jogging it in from 19 yards out for a score.
"The defense went over it: When they think they see pressure, they seek quick outs," Chandler said with a grin. "I just jumped it when I saw it."
Following a Philip Welch field goal that gave the Badgers a 10-point lead, Chandler came up huge again.
This time, Wisconsin receiver Nick Toon fumbled near the UNLV goal line while being taken down by Deante' Purvis. Chandler played Johnny-on-the-spot, scooping it up and running 82 yards to the Wisconsin 16-yard line.
A play later, after gaining next to nothing to that point on offense, Clausen finally had some time to operate, finding Phillip Payne down the seam for a score. It pulled the Rebels within three and gave them all the confidence in the world heading into the halftime locker room.
"That was a good thing to go into the locker room with, but we hadn't put a drive together yet," Clausen said ominously. "That's what we needed to do, and we came out and didn't do that at all.
"It actually kind of backfired."
After UNLV spent the first half actually losing a net of nine yards on seven rushing attempts, two run attempts to start the second stanza resulted in a loss of two more. On third-and-12, Clausen threw a receiver screen to Michael Johnson, who in traffic fumbled the ball away. An opportunistic Aaron Henry picked it up and strided in for an easy score.
Just like that, Wisconsin was back up by 10, stole any momentum the Rebels had seized before halftime and the rest was pretty much semantics.
"Everybody was hyped (at halftime), but we knew we had to finish and that's something we didn't do," Payne said. "We came out, lost the ball and, basically, that's what turned the game around.
"It was huge, but I know that nine times out of 10, Mike's not going to fumble that ball. It's one of those things where you've got to live with it. We kept coming out flat and didn't pick it up from the mistake we made."
The Rebels would make their numbers look more respectable by the end of the night, as Wisconsin's pressure didn't have as much of an effect later in the game and senior Omar Clayton replaced Clausen, leading a couple of decent drives.
UNLV deserved a bit of credit for closing the game out stronger on the defensive side of the ball than it had in lopsided defeats in recent years and showing a good amount of fight to the finish, but Hauck's team learned a tough lesson about creating a hole for itself early.
While UNLV only had 15 snaps in the first half and held the ball for 6:19, Wisconsin's time of possession was 23:41, included an efficient 138 rushing yards on 30 attempts and 13 first downs.
Against the run, for the most part, the Rebels looked improved a bit from last year, when they ranked 112th out of 120 FBS programs in that category. But it wasn't enough to minimize production by a premier rushing attack.
"At times, we played pretty well," Hauck said of his run defense. "But the consistency of it wasn't there. They're really good at what they do."
Wisconsin finished the night with 278 yards on the ground, and the effort was spearheaded by reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay. The burly junior totaled 123 yards and two scores on 17 carries, and back-ups Montee Ball and James White helped take all of the pressure off of Tolzien and the passing game.
UNLV ended up running for 112 yards on 27 attempts, but much of that came late in the game with Wisconsin having the victory all but sealed.
Some promising signs that Hauck has the program headed in the right direction were there.
Aside from the run defense appearing to be a bit more fundamentally sound and organized, there were no mental lapses and mind-boggling penalties that drove fans nuts over the past few seasons.
The discipline was a nice consolation prize for those Rebel backers who came to watch, but getting it to translate into a win won't be any easier next week, as Hauck takes his team on the road for the first time.
UNLV will take on Utah, which is likely to jump into the Top 25 polls after knocking off No. 15 Pitt in Salt Lake City on Thursday night in an overtime affair, 27-24. It marked the Utes' 18th consecutive victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Hauck said he and his staff will review Saturday's film extensively before determining who will start the game at quarterback for the Rebels, but the run game — both executing it and stopping it — is likely to consume much of the week's focus.
"The schedule's been there; we knew how it's going to lay out a long time ago," Hauck said. "The Utah game will be a tremendous challenge. Certainly, it's a daunting task to go up there and try to get a win, but after we correct off of this tape, we have to go up there and play a good game and see if we can't steal one."