Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
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While the 6-foot, 205-pound Cornett has been the Rebels’ leading rusher since bursting onto the scene in 2010 as a true freshman, he’ll be the first to confirm his performances could have been more significant.
Sure, there was that 80-yard touchdown run last year against Hawaii for the longest scoring run for a UNLV player since 1989. And, of course, there was the three 100-yard rushing games and a 5.6-yard per carry average. Still, Cornett plans to do more this fall.
Before hearing his logic, I was puzzled, too.
After all, on a team with no threat of a passing game and an inexperienced offensive line, he somehow managed to have a respectable season while being virtually the lone offensive threat. But UNLV won just two games for a second straight year, giving Cornett plenty of reasons to evaluate his role during the offseason.
His conclusion was obvious: He could do even more.
“I wasn’t mentally capable of leading the team like the team needed to be led,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have players leading the team. We had coaches do that. This year is different. Leading. That is what I am capable of doing this year.”
Saying and doing are two different things, and only time will tell if Cornett can be that leader the Rebels clearly need, but his willingness to shoulder the responsibility is something easy to appreciate. Remember, UNLV is coming off a pair of dismal seasons, including several setbacks in lopsided fashion, meaning being the captain of the Rebels’ ship could be a losing proposition no matter how many rushing yards are gained.
Last year, they were shocked at home by Southern Utah, stumbled on the road against New Mexico to give the lowly Lobos their lone win and embarrassed yet again by instate rival UNR in the Fremont Cannon rivalry game.
Some days, they simply didn’t show up. On other days, they flat-out quit.
“We are much more resilient,” he said. “In the past, when we would get a touchdown scored on us, we would put our heads down. We are much different this season.”
When Cornett talks about being different, he also means the offense. The running game, where Cornett has scored eight touchdowns in each of the past two seasons to quickly rank sixth in touchdowns scored in school history, is again expected to be a strength.
But don’t expect the passing game, which accounted for 1,315 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 games to rank 118th out of 120 Division I teams in passing yards while starting three different quarterbacks, to be the weak link. Whether junior Caleb Herring or redshirt freshman Nick Sherry wins the job in camp, Cornett is confident his teammates will be productive.
Despite past results, he’s serious. You have to credit his optimism.
“We have some of the best receivers in the conference. We are so versatile at that position,” Cornett said. “Somebody like Devante Davis at 6-foot-4 can go up and get the ball. Somebody like Eric Johnson in the slot can make moves and take it for a big play. Somebody like Marcus Sullivan can take it deep against anyone we play against.”
As for himself, Cornett knows he’ll continue to have a bull's-eye on his back each Saturday. In addition to leading UNLV in rushing yards last year, he was also the Rebels’ leader in receptions. Bottom line, the opposition will make stopping Cornett a top priority in their game plan.
That’s a challenge he welcomes with open arms.
“As a freshman and sophomore, I was young. I wasn’t able to show my confidence or lead the team,” he said. “I’m the type of person who can excel through all the pressure. I know what I can do, and I know what the (linemen) up front can do and what this offense can do.”
Again, only time will tell if Cornett is right, but you have to appreciate his positive outlook. It’s something the Rebels desperately need — even more than an accurate quarterback.