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January 17, 2022

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UNLV football:

Rebels searching for balance between self-belief and burden of letting others down

Beyond its own disappointment, UNLV is trying to live up to the expectations of people around the university and the city

UNLV vs. Northern Arizona

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Northern Arizona wide receivers Nick Cole, left, and Ify Umodu celebrate their play that set up a game-winning field goal during their game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Division I-AA Lumberjacks upset the Rebels 17-14.

LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk

The latest UNLV football debacle

The Las Vegas Sun sports staff reflects on UNLV's 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona. How much more time does coach Bobby Hauck deserve? Could a win this week against Washington State make up for the second loss to a Football Championship Series subdivision in less than a year? Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor discuss this and more on their weekly radio show.

Sidney Hodge still hears words of encouragement from friends and fans telling him to keep fighting and that they’ll get them the next time. Bobby Hauck says he hears that, too, though as UNLV’s coach, there’s at least an equal, and right now probably a much greater, collection of fans spitting venom his way.

It’s an ugly time for the Rebels (0-2), who would love to fast forward to Friday night at 6 when they host Washington State (1-1) in front of a national audience on ESPN. It’s a good thing the game will be on TV because there may not be too many people to witness the event in person.

UNLV’s opening-game attendance against Minnesota was 16,013, which was somewhat expected considering it was an 8 p.m. start on a school night. Saturday’s debacle against Northern Arizona, a 17-14 loss to a Division I-AA team, brought out just 15,257 despite UNLV offering a 2-for-1 ticket special. And with the Rebels suffering heartbreaking losses in both games, there’s not much incentive to return for the few fans who did make the trek to Sam Boyd Stadium.

“When you lose a game like we did last weekend, everybody has a tendency to say they’re never going to get it going,” Hauck said.

Despite those few encouraging words and pats on the back, Hodge, a junior cornerback, also can sense the disappointment that exists outside the locker room.

“You see it everywhere,” Hodge said. “At school, after the game.”

Obviously, the players, especially those like Hodge who were a part of Hauck’s two previous two-win seasons, are upset with the start to the season. But they weren’t the only ones who believed and expected this season to be different. That’s not to say the year is already over, but the Rebels have already dropped two of their most winnable games on the schedule.

And while they say they expect to win every game, it hits a little harder when it’s a giveaway loss to a double-digit underdog.

“We as a group, starting with me, feel like we let everybody in our department down,” Hauck said. “Anybody who’s associated with our university, we feel like we let those people down. … That’s a heavy burden.”

Hauck talks a lot about balance, mostly in reference to his desired offensive scheme of equal rushing and passing. It also applies to that burden and how UNLV must try to move forward with a year a lot of fans have already written off as over.

The Rebels feel pressure not only from the expectations they place on themselves but also from the university and the community. The city is desperate for a winning football team to support, and this year’s team desperately wants to be the squad that starts moving the program in that direction.

UNLV vs. Northern Arizona

Northern Arizona lineman Trey Gilleo rushes to greet running back Zach Bauman after Bauman's touchdown during their game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Division I-AA Lumberjacks upset the Rebels 17-14. Launch slideshow »

Outsiders would have to agree that three-point losses on last-minute field goals, though against weaker competition, are better than the nonconference blowouts of recent years. The most recent recruiting class, too, was a step in the right direction for Hauck and a staff built largely of men with whom he worked and had great success at Montana.

No one would argue that Hauck needed time to change the culture at UNLV. At question for a lot of people right now is just how much time that should be. Hauck’s answer to that this week has been, simply: The Rebels will either get it done or they won’t. He hasn’t been hostile, although maybe a bit uncomfortable, discussing his job status, and on Tuesday’s Mountain West teleconference, he acknowledged the results-based bottom line of his job.

“We’re kind of doing things our way,” Hauck said. “We need that at some point to show up on our scoreboard.”

LVH currently lists UNLV as a 10.5-point underdog to Washington State, a team that hasn’t announced its starting quarterback, will play the first half without starting safety Deone Bucannon and has won just two road games in the past four seasons. If the scoreboard doesn’t light up in the Rebels’ favor Friday, it’s going to have to fight for its first victory in much more difficult situations until UNLV hosts New Mexico on Nov. 3.

At least that’s the outsiders’ view. Inside the locker room, senior offensive lineman Doug Zismann said, there’s still optimism about every game. After all, if that didn’t exist, what would be the point of even suiting up?

“To believe it before you can see it is the real test of what a team is made of,” Zismann said.

Hauck and the Rebels really did seem to believe before the season. Now that their faith has been tested, how will they respond?

Hauck said he doesn’t worry about what the average fan thinks, but he also said he doesn’t want to let people down. Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas, though they could certainly be tied together. That burden weighs down on one side, and the belief that what they’re doing will eventually work pulls on the other.

Finding the balance between those can only start with a victory.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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