Friday, Oct. 28, 2011 | 2 a.m.
When facing truths, the reality is that UNLV's two best shots at wins before the end of the 2011 season will come in the next three weeks.
On Nov. 12, they head to Albuquerque to face New Mexico, who remains as the lone winless team in the Mountain West. That's also where UNLV last claimed a road win, doing so late in Mike Sanford's final season in 2009.
But first, Colorado State comes to Sam Boyd Stadium this weekend, where UNLV hasn't taken the field since a momentum-killing 41-19 loss on Sept. 24 to FCS foe Southern Utah.
The Rebels (1-5 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) will look to snap a 3-game skid and get something positive going in the 3 p.m. contest with the Rams (3-4, 1-1) before big, bad Boise State rolls into town next Saturday.
Technically, CSU is within reach of the 6-win mark and its second postseason berth under third-year coach Steve Fairchild. But in reality, the Rams are enduring several struggles of their own at the moment.
Here now is a closer look at UNLV's first afternoon home game of the season …
1) Quarterback situation still fluid
In the Rebels' 41-14 loss at Wyoming on Oct. 15, second-year coach Bobby Hauck gave junior Sean Reilly his first career start behind center in place of the struggling Caleb Herring with the hopes of jump-starting a struggling offense that couldn't find balance.
UNLV ran the ball well early, but Reilly was slow out of the gates. UNLV fell behind 20-0, and never could claw its way all the way back before things got out of hand late. Reilly went 7-of-16 for 79 yards and an interception that wasn't his fault.
It wasn't a great performance, but it wasn't awful. The playbook appeared to be kept simple for Reilly as he found his footing, with the Rebels not taking many chances downfield. There's no guarantee that that changes this weekend, but what's known is that, just like in Laramie, both Reilly and Herring will play.
Hauck confirmed that much at his Monday press conference, and while playing two quarterbacks is often not looked at as a strength, UNLV could put Colorado State's defense in tough situations and keep them guessing by changing things up as the game goes.
Hauck added that Herring continues to prepare as if he's still the starter, and that mentally, he's handled the last couple of weeks pretty well.
2) Speaking of Colorado State's defense …
A very strange split.
The Rams rank 29th out of 120 FBS programs against the pass, but check in at 116th against the run, which could play right into UNLV's favor.
Surging right now for UNLV is freshman running back Dionza Bradford, who in his first career start at Wyoming totaled 104 yards on 22 carries. He's listed as questionable with a leg injury for Saturday's game, but whether its him, Tim Cornett or Bradley Randle handling the brunt of the workload, how well UNLV runs the ball will depend on the offensive line play.
3) Beware of Pete Thomas
For CSU sophomore quarterback Pete Thomas, a highly-touted recruit two years back, UNLV might hold a special place in his heart, as it was against the Rebels a year ago when the then-freshman truly broke out.
In a 43-10 victory in Fort Collins, he threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns, doing most of his damage in the first half as the Rams went into cruise control after the intermission.
He's been up and down as a sophomore, and despite completing a respectable 62.9 percent of his passes, but Thomas has only six touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. He only has one game with more than one TD toss, and hasn't thrown one in either of CSU's last two games — both losses.
Still, he's dangerous, has a big arm and will take multiple shots down the field. Will facing UNLV be the cure for his funk for a second straight year?
4) Story of schedules
For UNLV, as mentioned before, realistic shots at wins are few on the rest of its 2011 schedule. Remaining, other than the game at New Mexico, are tussles against Boise State, San Diego State, TCU and Air Force — All of whom are likely postseason-bound. The Rebels' players have said they're approaching this game as a shot at building some momentum as they head into a treacherous stretch of games.
On the other side, Colorado State is three wins away from bowl eligibility, but getting there will be pretty tough. Dropping winnable games at home against San Jose State and at UTEP could prove costly. After facing UNLV, the Rams host San Diego State, travel to take on TCU, then close with back-to-back home tilts against Air Force and Wyoming. In other words, expect a sense of urgency from CSU in this spot.
5) Paging Phillip Payne
Senior receiver Phillip Payne's up-and-down season has again hit the skids, and if he wants to turn things around, time is starting to run short. He's had a bit of an issue with dropped passes this season, and after the first pass thrown to him at Wyoming went through his hands and turned into an interception, he only caught one ball for 32 yards heading into the bye week.
Since catching 13 passes for 175 yards against Southern Utah, he only has that one grab in the last two games combined, and badly needs to snap out of his funk to help give UNLV's offense some life.
He doesn't have much of a history against Colorado State, having missed the 2009 game due to injury and then last season's game while serving a mid-season suspension. The time is right for Payne to try and create some, as opportunities could be plentiful if the Rebels can run the ball successfully and draw the defense in early.