Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 | 10:13 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports writers Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss this weekend's big events: the biggest boxing match in the last six years and a UNLV home football game.
UNLV 31, Central Michigan 21
In what could turn out to be a season or job-saving turnaround, UNLV scored 31 unanswered points over the final 31 minutes for a 31-21 victory against Central Michigan. It ties for the second-biggest comeback for a victory in school history.
Caleb Herring and Devante Davis are going to get the headlines. Herring came in after UNLV's first two drives and completed 24-of-28 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to Davis, who tallied 140 yards on seven catches. But the defense deserves just as much credit.
Both sides of the ball were awful in the first half and it took a turnaround from both sides to make this happen. In the second half Central Michigan amassed barely more than 100 yards as the Rebels' secondary hounded the receivers and the line finally got through and got pressure on the quarterback.
UNLV (1-2) really needed this. It looked like a lost cause for much of the night but the Rebels deserve credit for bouncing back and dominating down the stretch. Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report on the victory.
UNLV 31, Central Michigan 21
6:40 remaining in the fourth quarter
That one will go on the Rebels' highlight reel. Devante Davis caught a 12-yard pass from Caleb Herring and tapped his toe oh-so-close to the back of the end zone for his third touchdown catch of the night.
UNLV is going to win this game, which is a pretty amazing statement considering where things stood an hour or so ago. The Rebels scored just before halftime and have just continued to roll from there. Herring has clearly played his way into the starting gig and the defense, after a very shaky first half, has played as well as it did in any game last year. Maybe better.
This is an impressive turnaround for the Rebels, one they desperately needed.
UNLV 24, Central Michigan 21
14:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Make that 24 unanswered points for the Rebels, who have their first lead of the game and all of the momentum in Sam Boyd Stadium. Caleb Herring 18-for-22 for 218 yards and two touchdowns since entering the game on UNLV's third drive.
His play in UNLV's hurry-up offense is the biggest reason the Rebels have come back, though as I said earlier the defense deserves a ton of credit. They started tackling much better and CMU's receivers haven't been as sure-handed as they were int eh first half.
At this point as long as UNLV doesn't get in its own way it should be able to get out with a victory. But after what we saw in the first half that's far from a sure thing.
UNLV 21, Central Michigan 21
2:58 remaining in the third quarter
The fans who showed up and stuck around are getting treated to an example of how things were supposed to be for UNLV football this season. Caleb Herring connects with Devante Davis for a 42-yard touchdown and the Rebels have scored 21 unanswered to tie the game.
The defense deserves as much credit as the suddenly alive offense. The Rebels have capitalized on the offense's momentum by getting that unit the ball quickly and stuffing CMU. The secondary is breaking up passes and CMU quarterback Cooper Rush is under consistent pressure.
Everything is swinging the Rebels' way right now so it's crucial they don't do anything to stop that. And by that I mean, no penalties or turnovers. Just make some smart plays right now and UNLV could very soon find itself with a lead.
Central Michigan 21, UNLV 14
10:10 remaining in the third quarter
If you only saw UNLV's last two drives, you would think the Rebels are well on their way to a double-digit victory. As it stands those are the only scores but with Caleb Herring at the helm the Rebels have created some momentum.
The defense still needs to hold up its end but at least they have something worth fighting for right now. With a quick stop the fans may actually have reason to believe UNLV could pull this one out.
Central Michigan 21, UNLV 7
Devante Davis' 12-yard touchdown reception in the final minute of the first half gives UNLV a little life going into halftime. But just a little.
Davis has been the bright spot in an otherwise dull offense. Caleb Herring lofted a nice ball to him for a 50-yard gain that set up the touchdown. Other than his 67 receiving yards, UNLV has 48 yards of offense.
Herring has at least been serviceable so at this point it'd be a surprise to see Nick Sherry the rest of the game. Sherry threw an interception on his first pass attempt and was pulled after a subsequent three-and-out drive.
CMU quarterback Cooper Rush is carving up the Rebels' defense with 181 yards and touchdown on 14-of-22 passing. He's also converted 50 percent of his third-down attempts.
It's only two scores so the Rebels aren't done just yet, but it's going to take a significantly better performance from both sides of the ball to avoid an ugly 0-3 start to the season.
Central Michigan 21, UNLV 0
7:02 remaining in the second quarter
This looks more and more like the beginning of the end. Central Michigan again converts a long third down and then finds the end zone to take a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
UNLV does at least have a couple of first downs to its credit but very little else. After watching the past two weeks a victory today didn't seem assured, and I'm sure some of you thought the Rebels would get blown out tonight, but I didn't. If they were going to build anything this season it had to start tonight.
And this has been awful.
Central Michigan 14, UNLV 0
12:15 remaining in the second quarter
There's simply nothing good to say about UNLV right now. Nothing. The offense hasn't accomplished anything and the defense, even after getting a sack to set up a long third down, can't keep a mediocre Central Michigan offense from marching right down the field.
The Chippewas converted the third down with a screen pass and Saylor Lavallii finished off the drive with his second rushing touchdown. If Caleb Herring doesn't at least move the ball a little bit in his second drive leading the offense, the Rebels could very quickly find themselves trailing by three scores.
Central Michigan 7, UNLV 0
End of the first quarter
This first quarter is a stark contrast to last week. Against Arizona the game moved so fast — mostly because of Wildcat scores — that it was hard to keep up. This week it's hard to stay awake. Maybe that's an improvement.
CMU has a long third down ahead and what should have been a punt. Instead the Chippewas opened the second quarter with a long screen pass and another first down. So far CMU leads the total yardage 152-10 and first downs 9-0.
Central Michigan 7, UNLV 0
4:23 remaining in the first quarter
Saylor Lavallii capped a long scoring drive with a 3-yard run that puts Central Michigan ahead 7-0 near the end of the first quarter. There hadn't been much action for either team until the Chippewas were able to mount that drive.
UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry threw an interception on his first attempt and the Rebels were quickly stuffed on their second drive. Thus far they have one yard on five plays. Now Caleb Herring will get his shot at quarterback.All the pressure on UNLV today against Central Michigan
Today is the turning point for UNLV’s 2013 season. If the Rebels avoid their catastrophic mistakes and win, they could be on their way to four victories.
And if they don’t? Well, what’s already felt like a long season could get a lot longer. UNLV (0-2) hosts Central Michigan (1-1) at 7 tonight. The game is streaming for free online on the Mountain West Network.
This is the first game UNLV is favored in, and it could set the tone for the next four. After this are home games against Western Illinois and Hawaii, sandwiched around a road trip to New Mexico. Those are all winnable so long as UNLV gets out of its own way and makes some improvements today. That’s the optimistic view.
The pessimistic one? That’s from people who remember UNLV went 0-4 against backup quarterbacks last year — it will face another one today. And Western Illinois gave Minnesota a tough fight on the road earlier today.
Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush will challenge UNLV’s secondary like it hasn’t been yet this season, and if the Rebels play anything like they did last year back there, that’s not good news.
But there’s also a positive spin to that situation, which is that this is Rush’s first career start. Although Sam Boyd Stadium isn’t exactly a hostile environment, it’s still not easy to for a young quarterback to go on the road.
All the pressure is on the Rebels. If the Chippewas come in and lose, well, they were supposed to anyway. UNLV, though, is already fighting the perception that things are getting worse, not better. And a loss today would only strengthen that belief.
Bern’s prediction: If UNLV is going to make anything out of this season, it needs to start today. I’m not very confident in today’s outcome or the Rebels’ ability to string this into a few victories, but I’ll give UNLV the slight edge. UNLV 30, Central Michigan 19
Season picks: ATS 1-1, O/U 2-0