Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 | 2 a.m.
With UNLV football entering game week for the 2014 season opener at Arizona, Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Case Keefer dust off the Rebel Room to break down UNLV's first game and the season outlook.
Blake Decker might not have known he would be UNLV’s starting quarterback when he transferred into the program this offseason, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he expected himself to be in this position entering Friday’s season opener at Arizona.
“That was the hope,” Decker said. “Obviously I don’t think you go into any program hoping to be the second- or third-string quarterback.”
UNLV kicks off the 2014 season Friday at 7:36 p.m. on ESPN. While the Rebels enter the season with a level of expectation previously unseen in the Bobby Hauck era, that optimism doesn’t necessarily apply to the first game. UNLV is a 24-point underdog to the Wildcats, who whipped the Rebels 58-13 in last year’s meeting at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“We think we’re going to have a good season,” Hauck said, “but going to Tucson and winning’s going to be a tall order.”
The Rebels got a better idea of what they’re up against earlier Monday when Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez named Bishop Gorman grad Anu Solomon his starting quarterback. Hauck said he expected Solomon to win the job, although Rodriguez made it sound like a fluid situation.
“I thought (Solomon) deserved the right to start the first game,” Rodriguez told the Arizona Daily Star. “I don’t know who the next guy is, but I told all four of the guys to be ready to play because all four could play.”
Solomon won four state championships at Gorman. He’s a dual threat who’s played in front of big crowds before, so he’s unlikely to feel out of his element at Arizona Stadium.
“He had a great high school program and had help around him, but he was a guy who had great leadership and had the intangibles that you want,” Rodriguez said.
No matter whom Rodriguez rolls with at quarterback, UNLV’s concerns are bigger than one position. Last year the defense allowed 397 rushing yards, but Ka’Deem Carey is with the Chicago Bears now so it’s expected to be a running back by committee. That group includes former Rebel Adonis Smith, who left during the postseason ban.
Smith is listed as one of the backups and it’s unclear how much he’ll play. Hauck downplayed Smith’s significance in revealing any company secrets to the opposition by joking that it would have required Smith to actually pay attention.
Arizona’s strength is its offense, which is going to be a tremendous challenge for the Rebels’ defense. However, UNLV’s offensive possessions might actually be the key to the game.
When you’re a big underdog, Hauck said, the main focus is just getting to the fourth quarter. If it’s a close game at that point, anything can happen.
“There are ways of attempting to do that,” Hauck said.
One of them is clock management. Decker seems capable of running a hurry-up offense similar to the way offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach called games with Caleb Herring at quarterback, but that’s only when UNLV wants him too. When trying to shorten a game the best asset is a long, sustained drive, so the Rebels might be more likely to take their time and use some clock than to try to catch the defense off guard.
Whatever they end up doing, Decker’s going to be the guy running the show. The Grand Canyon State native grew up an Arizona State fan so there’s some sense of rivalry to this game for him. And at a program with a poor history of quarterback play, Decker’s doing his best to make it sound like an easy task.
“The quarterback doesn’t need to be that much of a playmaker in this offense,” Decker said. “He just needs to distribute the ball and get it out to the superstars that we have.”