Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
There are many factors to consider in the Rebels’ third attempt at bowl eligibility, but none are more important than how they handle the weather. Considering UNLV's challenges in the cold, it’s understandable that some moods changed when the forecast for Thursday’s game at Air Force (2-8, 0-6) changed from mid-50s and clear to low-20s with a possible flurries. The Rebels (5-5, 3-3) kick off at 6:30 Las Vegas time on ESPNU.
The temperature may dip to 15 degrees by the time the game starts, and although flurries are expected to end by the afternoon, that’s certainly no guarantee. Adding to UNLV’s challenge is the fact it’s missing some key players on defense.
Senior safety Frank Crawford missed the second half of last week’s game because of a knee injury and freshman linebacker Tau Lotulelei didn’t play at all. Both of them are listed as out this week, and so are contributors Jake Phillips (tight end) and David Greene (defensive back).
A victory would get UNLV to bowl eligibility and ensure its first winning road record since 2003. Although the Rebels are the better team on paper, it’s not going to be easy.
1. Bundle up
It doesn’t matter that the Rebels, sitting comfortably indoors Monday, said the weather in Colorado Springs wouldn’t be an issue Thursday. They won’t know that until they actually get out on the field and run around in what’s expected to be about a 15-degree evening at kickoff.
And odds are it will be a factor. That doesn’t mean UNLV has no chance simply because of cold and the snow expected to fall into Thursday afternoon, but it’s certainly going to have an effect.
Anyone who watched UNLV play in frigid temperatures at Colorado State last year knows the Rebels didn’t handle that well. Caleb Herring is the quarterback this time around, and unlike then-freshman Nick Sherry, the senior has previous experience playing in the cold.
Still, it would behoove the Rebels to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible, and tackling in the cold is going to be an extra challenge for a defense that already has to try to handle Air Force’s cut block techniques.
2. Flunking the Academy
The Rebels only have one previous victory at Air Force, which came in 2001. Other than that game, UNLV is 0-7 in Colorado Springs.
That’s not too shocking considering UNLV’s overall lack of success through the years, especially on the road. And even though Air Force doesn’t often have great teams, the Falcons are often good and they’re always unique. Air Force has been running at least some variation of the triple option-offense with cut-blocking techniques for as long as most people can remember.
They’re a difficult team to prepare for in a week’s time. The extra time UNLV has from its bye week should help, although there’s only so much that will do. The Rebels can prepare for Air Force’s tendencies, but they can’t prepare for what it’s going to feel like to tackle those guys in freezing temperatures.
3. Two dimes
Former high school teammates Tim Cornett and Devante Davis need only modest numbers against Air Force to both eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season. It would mark the first time in program history that UNLV had both a running back and receiver reach that mark in the same season.
Cornett needs to gain 30 yards on the ground and Davis needs 52 through the air. It’s very possible they’ll both reach those numbers by halftime.
As always, those two are going to play a large role in how UNLV’s offense fares. In this game, that’s even more important for Cornett, who needed the extra days to heal some injuries.
UNLV has been running with Cornett almost exclusively over the past few games. Freshman Shaquille Murray-Lawrence has been in the dog house since fumbling on his only carry against UNR, and junior Adonis Smith hasn’t gotten much work.
UNLV’s defensive line vs. Air Force’s offensive line
This is often the most important battle for UNLV because if the front isn’t getting off blocks, the Rebels get run all over. Because of the way Air Force plays, it’s even more important that the defensive line rise to the occasion, because the Rebels need that group to bust up some of the Falcons’ runs before they become 2-on-1 situations on the outside.
Over/Under: 3.5 combined fumbles
The colder it is, the harder it is to hold on to the ball. Turnovers killed UNLV in its last cold-weather game at Colorado State last year. Both Air Force and UNLV have good enough running games that if they hold onto the ball, they could have a chance. The one that coughs it up will be left out in the cold.
That’s what he said: “They’re a pain in the neck by design.” — Hauck on Air Force’s offense