Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 | 7:45 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern dive into UNLV football's most recent loss and break down their own gambling weekend as well as the upcoming PGA event in town.
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Tim Cornett’s collegiate career has never been something tangible for his family.
Cornett, a junior from the Houston area, has led UNLV in rushing the past three seasons, including the current one in which he ranks 21st in the country with 507 rushing yards. And all the while his family has watched, when possible, on TV and called or texted him after the game. But they’ve never seen arguably UNLV’s most important player on the field in person.
That changes Saturday when UNLV plays at Louisiana Tech at 4 p.m. on Cox Cable (chs. 96 and 1096) and ESPN3.com. When Cornett takes the field in Ruston, La., at least 20 members of his family and close friends will be in the stands, having made the approximately five and a half hour drive northeast from their Texas home.
Not everyone gets a chance to play in front of family during their career, and for that reason Cornett has had this game on his mind since it went on the schedule.
“I’m going to put in some extra effort to put on a show for them,” Cornett said.
The timing seems far from perfect for Cornett. He’s coming off his worst game of the year — 36 yards on 17 carries — during which he didn’t break a run longer than seven yards. And in practice this week he wore a blue jersey to limit the contact from teammates after he injured his shoulder in last week’s 35-13 loss at Utah State.
The jersey is more of a precaution than anything else, as Cornett said he’s very close to 100 percent and wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report. And maybe this is actually the best time to play a game that means so much to him away from the field. That extra effort he mentioned could be the trick to getting back to the more than five yards per carry he was averaging leading into the Utah State game.
Of course, the Bulldogs defense may play as big a role in Cornett’s production as the UNLV offensive line does. Louisiana Tech ranks third to last in the country in total yards given up, nearly 530 per game if you want to keep count.
The Bulldogs counteract that with the fifth-highest scoring offense in the nation and, just as importantly, the third-best turnover margin in football. So they will give up a lot of yards but a lot of those long drives may end with the ball in the Bulldogs’ hands.
In fact, one of the most interesting battles may be Cornett and the other skill position players vs. the Louisiana Tech defense when it comes to holding on to the ball. UNLV is one of only five teams in the country that hasn’t lost a fumble this year, while the Bulldogs are tied for the most fumble recoveries with nine, including one returned for a touchdown.
One of those sides isn’t going to leave the game happy, and if UNLV’s going to have a chance to win, let alone cover the 27-point spread, it needs to be the Bulldogs’ defense. Ball security will be crucial from start to finish, and as the guy who will likely get the second most touches on the team behind quarterback Nick Sherry, a lot of that responsibility falls on Cornett.
The team’s chartered flight had to be rerouted from Monroe to Shreveport so the Rebels may get into Ruston a bit later, but as soon as they arrive, Cornett plans to spend as much time as possible with his loved ones. His parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and twin 3-year-old niece and nephew are staying at the team hotel, so every moment he’s not in meetings will be spent in their company. There will be laughs and hugs and dinner and talks about how proud everyone is of him.
Cornett said the little things, small changes that add up over time, are things he misses most while going to school out of state.
“Being away from home you really miss seeing them,” Cornett said. “Now I get to see them and play football.”
Cornett can’t guarantee a victory, but in his first game with his family in the stands he will put on a show.