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January 17, 2022

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UNLV hopes to build off of silver lining from loss at Wisconsin

Offensive line play, running game could prove to be a strength for Rebels moving forward

UNLV football

Associated Press

Wisconsin’s Antonio Fenelus (26) tackles UNLV running back Bradley Randle during the first half of their game Thursday night in Madison, Wis.

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The silver lining from UNLV's 51-17 season-opening loss at Wisconsin last Thursday night was pretty easy to identify.

With three freshman offensive linemen playing together for all but one series at Camp Randall Stadium, the Rebels' run game was consistently effective, racking up 146 yards on the ground. Their two-headed monster at running back, consisting of sophomores Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle, was responsible for 126 of those on only 26 carries.

"They did some good things, especially considering there were three freshmen in the game," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. "You can get excited about that. If nothing else, you can get excited about the future. We came off the ball, we targeted well, worked hard to finish plays. It was good. We didn't have a bunch of negative plays, which can happen when you play that many young guys. It was overall a solid performance."

Next on the growth chart for a young UNLV team is getting those positives to translate into wins. They're hoping the same run game can show up Saturday at 2 p.m. as the Rebels face a beatable opponent on the road at Washington State.

The key now for UNLV's offensive line is consistency.

On UNLV's depth chart for the trip to Pullman, Wash., junior Yusef Rodgers is still listed as the Rebels' starter at right tackle. He did just that last week, but was replaced by redshirt freshman Cameron Jefferson after one series. The rest of the way, Jefferson and fellow redshirt freshmen Robert Waterman (center) and Brett Boyko (left tackle) performed admirably.

Jefferson, throughout fall camp, had the look of UNLV's left tackle of the future. But in the camp's final days, he began seeing some reps on the other side of the line, and now, it appears that the coaching staff may have found something with its freshman tackle combination.

Expect to see that young trio up front play together plenty moving forward along with junior right guard Doug Zismann and sophomore left guard Sean Tesoro.

"Even though they've got a long way to go, they handled the situation quite well," offensive line coach Chad Germer said. "Taking your first snaps in Madison, I don't think they were awestruck. They handled the situation pretty well mentally, as far as the emotional side of it.

"I was very encouraged by the way they flew around and tried to make stuff happen and played aggressively. We've still got a long way to go, but as long as they keep doing that, we'll continue to grow from last Thursday."

In last season's 41-21 season-opening loss to Wisconsin, UNLV's veteran offensive line, which the previous several seasons had played more upright in a shotgun spread offense, was pushed around by the Badgers' hefty defensive front.

As for the 2010 season as a whole, UNLV was much more successful running the ball on the edges than it was while trying to move between the tackles. By now being able to successfully diversify their attack some, it could also help open things up even more for sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring, who was strong in his first career start.

"If anything, I think the linemen feel more confident, knowing they could do that against a top-ranked team," Cornett said.

In its 64-21 victory over Idaho State last weekend, Washington State's run defense wasn't tested much, as the Bengals' backs only ran the ball a combined 10 times.

UNLV will likely try to pound the ball into the heart of the Cougar defense much more than Idaho State did. Germer said that the way his young offensive line approached the challenge at Wisconsin was what he'd hoped to see. They were sound in their assignments, but the next steps include cleaning up technique and consistently playing a more violent brand of ball in the trenches.

What Hauck wants to see is his young ones up front do is not just improve as a unit, but now actually contribute to some wins.

"It's about winning the game, and I don't think there's anybody that came out of (the Wisconsin loss) beating their chest," he said. "We made a few good plays. Good for us. They made a whole bunch more. Bad for us. We need to play to win, and we're certainly not into moral victories."

Picture still unclear regarding Marcus Sullivan, Eric Johnson

Sophomore receiver/kick returner Marcus Sullivan and junior receiver/punt returner Eric Johnson, it appears, might not be available for a second straight week.

Both were left home from the Wisconsin trip at the last minute as they await academic clearance. Hauck said after the game that he felt Johnson might become available for the Washington State trip, but now, that seems to still be up in the air.

"It's looking cloudy for the weekend," Hauck said. "I was hoping it wouldn't."

Sullivan, a 5-foot-9 speedster out of Cheyenne High, was poised for a breakout sophomore season as a receiver after ranking 17th in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks in kick return average in 2010. He is absent from this week's depth chart and is replaced at receiver by senior Michael Johnson, who caught seven passes for 51 yards in his place last Thursday.

Eric Johnson, though, is still on the depth chart as a back-up receiver and as a starter at both kick and punt returner.

Hauck's extension approved

The NHSE Board of Regents on Thursday voted on and approved the two-year contract extension that Hauck agreed to last month.

The addition to Hauck's original three-year deal puts him under contract through the 2014 season, with his annual salary remaining at $350,000.

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