Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- UNLV linebacker Tani Maka earns weekly defensive honor from the Mountain West
- Analysis: Hauck deserves time to transform UNLV football into a winner
- Keep your composure: Defending Air Force one of the more unique challenges in football
- Mountain Best: UNR tops the Sun’s initial Mountain West college football rankings
- UNLV needs better pickup lines as it enters difficult stretch of the schedule
- Rebels stuck in different version of same bad movie in 35-27 loss to Washington St.
- All UNLV Football Coverage
There’s a kid who’s spent weeks at home practicing the piano, only recently pulling it together to hit the right notes in the closing bars and bring the song to its desired conclusion. And just as he finally accomplishes this, he looks at the calendar on the wall, realizing that his first recital is this weekend. Ready or not, he’s got to take this show on the road.
UNLV football knows the feeling.
Because of a strange schedule configuration, the Rebels (1-3) are about to play four of their next five games on the road after opening with four straight at Sam Boyd Stadium. Only in their most recent game, a 38-35 victory against Air Force, did the song come together. The others were close — a few wrong notes here, some bad timing there — but not good enough to satisfy the home audience, let alone work in a hostile environment like the Rebels will see Saturday night at 5 at Utah State (3-1) on ESPN3.com.
At this point, it doesn’t really matter where UNLV is playing. So long as it’s outside of Las Vegas, no one’s going to give the Rebels a chance until they prove they can win. That’s what happens when you haven’t won a road game since Oct. 24, 2009, a stretch of 16 games that covers nearly three-quarters of a presidential term.
That last road win was the third-to-last victory of the Mike Sanford era at UNLV. Now an assistant at Utah State, Sanford can help extend the Rebels’ woes in a game for which he’ll surely be more fired up than usual.
“I would be if I was him,” said UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, who added that he and Sanford talk in the offseason.
Speaking to media from the Lied Athletic Complex on Monday afternoon, Hauck downplayed the road effect. Ditto for reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week Tani Maka and running back Tim Cornett, who said he plays to win no matter the venue.
"Whether it’s road, home, someone’s backyard, anything,” Cornett said.
Sure, but there’s a considerable difficulty taking a team on the road that the Rebels didn’t seem to want to acknowledge. There’s a reason Las Vegas bookmakers often give three points to a home team that’s otherwise equal to its opponent. And in this case, the Aggies are 17.5-point favorites.
“There’s something to do with the atmosphere and momentum shifts,” Hauck said. “There has to be some small influence there.”
Just like Maka’s second-half fumble recovery against Air Force pulled the crowd into the game and gave UNLV momentum, the situation could easily flip on the Rebels away from home, especially against a team as talented as the Aggies, who are a missed field goal at Wisconsin away from being undefeated.
Still, the Rebels don’t think of it that way, or at least they say they don’t.
“I really feel no different,” Cornett said. “It’s just we’ll be playing in front of people wearing blue instead of red.”
Well, technically it will be white instead of red, which covers both the Rebels' shirts and the empty red seats at Sam Boyd Stadium. For homecoming, Utah State is having its first staged "white out," including the fans in the stands and the white jerseys and pants the Aggies will wear on the field. That plus the motivation of playing a team that next season will be a conference foe ensures a raucous environment at Romney Stadium.
That’s not really in the Rebels’ control, though. They’ll practice for the sound, sure, but sticking with their mantra that things don’t really change on the road, the Rebels are going to focus on themselves and building off Saturday’s stellar second half.
“Everything seems like it’s turning around,” Maka said.
Maybe, but it’s harder to recover from those wrong notes away from home. Eventually, you’ve just got to get out of the house and see how you play, hoping it still sounds good.