Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 | 6 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 | 9:51 p.m.
- Offensive line working on keeping its promise to keep Nick Sherry off his back
- UNLV punter Chase Lansford among nation’s leaders after solid debut
- Confident UNLV defense, led by Tim Hasson, making positive strides
- Nick Sherry gets hit often in college debut, a 30-27 triple-overtime loss to Minnesota
- Tim Cornett ‘was a warrior’ in UNLV’s triple-overtime loss to Minnesota
- All UNLV Football Coverage
NORTHERN ARIZONA 17, UNLV 14
Backed up at its own 14-yard line with 1:16 to play and the game tied, Northern Arizona wasn't content to play for overtime. The Lumberjacks wanted to win, and that's exactly what they did.
NAU marched right down the field and hit a game-winning 33-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.
The Rebels walked around the field stunned after the game and a lot of them headed straight for the locker room rather than shaking hands. Probably it would have been too painful.
UNLV started the game on fire and led 14-0 at halftime, but a failed fake field goal in the second quarter set things in a bad direction and they never recovered. NAU scored on a punt return touchdown and a short rushing touchdown.
This was supposed to be a tuneup and confidence builder, but now UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is going to be left searching for answers after losing to a Division I-AA team for the second straight year.
Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report.
UNLV 14, NORTHERN ARIZONA 14
8:12 remaining in the fourth quarter
With a lot of help from UNLV defensive penalties, Northern Arizona marched down the field and eventually tied the game midway through the fourth quarter on Zach Bauman's eight-yard touchdown run.
The Rebels' only offensive rhythm in the second half has come sparingly from the passing game, but until this last drive the defense was still keeping NAU at arm's length. That changed when the secondary started committing pass interference penalties at really inopportune times. NAU picked up a couple of first downs on third downs, demoralizing the defense.
UNLV is in serious trouble. The offense has sputtered to a standstill, but it's going to take at least one big play from them and another couple of stands by the defense to avoid the upset.
UNLV 14, NORTHERN ARIZONA 7
13:47 remaining in the third quarter
After UNLV went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, NAU's Austin Shanks fielded the punt, made a couple of moves and ran right up the middle for a 75-yard punt return touchdown.
Shanks was untouched after his first move, exploiting several Rebels who suddenly found themselves out of position.
You had to figure that NAU would score eventually, but the Rebels could have done themselves a favor by building on that lead in the second half. Instead, they lead by just one score and the Lumberjacks have all the momentum on their side.
UNLV 14, NORTHERN ARIZONA 0
NAU's last-minute bid for points came up empty as the Rebels blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half.
Overall there wasn't much going on in the second quarter. UNLV has been content to keep going to the ground, but with Bradley Randle and Dionza Bradford handling the carries in relief of Tim Cornett, the results haven't been nearly as impressive.
The Rebels have had a couple of punts and on the one drive where they approached scoring range, they opted for a fake punt that saw backup quarterback Caleb Herring throw incomplete to tight end turned defensive end Jordan Sparkman in the end zone. Personally it seemed a bit ill-conceived — if you're going to go for it, go for it — but that's a lot easier to say in hindsight.
The defense has been getting into the backfield and causing havoc for the Lumberjacks. With the exception of that final drive, UNLV's D hasn't given NAU room to do much of anything. When the Lumberjacks were having success it was because their quarterback had some time to throw and the receivers were running wide open through the secondary.
Cornett has 115 yards and a touchdown while Randle has struggled since scoring as he has just 25 yards on 11 carries. Nick Sherry is 7-of-12 for 96 yards and tight end Jake Phillips is the only Rebel with more than one catch.
UNLV 14, NORTHERN ARIZONA 0
13:50 remaining in the second quarter
Run, run, run, run, pass, run, run. That's pretty close to UNLV's offensive pattern thus far, and it's worked very well as the Rebels took a 14-0 lead thanks to their second rushing touchdown, this one courtesy of Bradley Randle.
UNLV started the second quarter at the five-yard line, and after falling just short on third down, Randle got the ball again and punched it into the end zone for his first score of the season.
UNLV coach Bobby Hauck always talks about wanting to be balanced, and that's necessary to a degree. But tonight the Rebels, albeit against an inferior opponent, are showing that their offense works well when they pass only when the defense really gives them to space to do it. When they don't, just keep it on the ground.
UNLV 7, NORTHERN ARIZONA 0
10:48 remaining in the first quarter
As soon as Tim Cornett started running the ball against this Lumberjack defense, it was apparent he was going to break a big touchdown run at some point tonight. It just so happened to be on the first drive.
After UNLV's defense forced a quick three-and-out, Nick Sherry started the offense rolling with a 25-yard completion to tight end Jake Phillips, his first career reception. After that it was all about Cornett, who carved up the NAU defense before breaking a 42-yard touchdown run to cap a seven-play, 89-yard drive that took just more than two and a half minutes.
Cornett ran to the left side, bounced off a defender and found a wide open hole, going untouched most of the way into the end zone.
UNLV wanted to put this away early, and this is as good a start as they could have hoped for.
UNLV doesn’t want people leaving at halftime tonight, but it would certainly like the game to be in a position where Rebels fans aren’t sticking around to see who will win.
The UNLV football team hosts Division I-AA opponent Northern Arizona tonight at 7. While the Rebels lost last week in triple overtime to Minnesota, the Lumberjacks were thrashed by in-state foe Arizona State 63-6. Northern Arizona’s starting quarterback (Cary Grossart) and running back (Zach Bauman) had to leave the game early with injuries.
Both guys were practicing this week and should be on the field against UNLV. Of course, in the Rebels’ perfect world, that shouldn’t matter.
NAU isn’t an elite Division I-AA team this year, and it will be outclassed in size and speed against UNLV. That didn’t bother Southern Utah last year, but this is a different Rebels team — or at least it seems to be — and you have to think they’ve learned from that colossal mistake.
So the best thing UNLV could do this week was focus on itself.
The running game was very good against Minnesota and it should get backup Dionza Bradford back tonight. That’s where the Rebels must start, which will then give freshman quarterback Nick Sherry and his receivers space on the outside to progress from a shaky debut.
Sherry tossed three interceptions against the Gophers — one off a tipped pass and two really bad decisions. Physically he got tired after constantly getting hit, and that’s something he will have to get used to throughout the season. Whether it starts tonight depends a lot on how well the offensive line keeps him protected. Sherry may not need to adapt too much hitting because the Lumberjacks should struggle to get to him. However, one of NAU's pass rushers will be playing with some extra fire as Tim Wilkinson, a Bishop Gorman grad, gets a chance to play in front of hometown friends and family.
If Sherry does have time but doesn’t show improvement in his decision-making then there may be cause for some concern. It would help if leading receiver Marcus Sullivan, who’s listed as probable with a leg injury, could play at close to full capacity. Those two worked very well together in the first half against Minnesota before Sullivan had to leave the game. It will also be interesting to see if Sherry targets tight end Jake Phillips more today; the two looked very much in sync during practice all the way back to spring but Phillips had no catches against Minnesota.
Defensively, UNLV still needs to get more pressure on the quarterback. UNLV coach Bobby Hauck was pleased with the unit’s effort against the Gophers, but there were a lot of open passes that were just missed. It’s more likely that UNLV can correct that up front rather than in the secondary.
Bern’s prediction: This one will never get completely out of hand, but UNLV will be in control from the start. There will be some reason to worry when Northern Arizona pulls within 10 or so in the second half, but it won’t get any closer than that and the Rebels will makes some strides before preparing to host Pac-12 foe Washington State next week. UNLV 34, NAU 17.