John Locher / AP
Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014 | 6:30 p.m.
Here’s the good news: For the first time all season, UNLV didn’t throw an interception.
Here’s the bad news: Literally everything else.
As it has done over and over this season, UNLV’s offense scored on its opening possession before hibernating the rest of the game. By the time it was mercifully over, UNLV’s defense had given up 542 yards to Air Force’s option attack.
The score, 48-21, only indicates some degree of the dominance since the Falcons could have named their margin of victory. It’s a fitting final, though, since it almost exactly mirrors UNLV’s 41-21 victory last November in Colorado Springs.
UNLV coach Bobby Hauck received a water bath in subzero temperatures after that game, which made the Rebels bowl eligible for the first time since 2000.
“It’s amazing what a difference 12 months makes,” Hauck said.
For UNLV, that difference has been all bad. Last year with three games remaining, the Rebels were playing for a bowl berth and a .500 record. This year, they’re playing because the schedule says there are still three more games.
The Rebels’ running game, a struggle all season, amassed only 33 yards on 30 carries today, and that’s with only minus-4 net yards from quarterback Blake Decker, who was sacked five times. Through the air, Decker finished 18-of-32 with 263 yards and one touchdown before getting knocked out of the game in the third quarter.
Decker was taking hard shots all game, and the last one was too much, twisting him up into a heap near midfield. When redshirt freshman Jared Lebowitz took over, it didn’t get much better.
Lebowitz’s first career snap was delayed by a false start penalty, and after that he missed receivers all over the field, going 3-of-12 for 18 yards. Decker is expected to be ready for next week’s road trip to BYU, where the Arizona native originally committed out of high school.
How the Rebels will prepare for that game, or any of the remaining three considering how woeful this season has become, remains a mystery. Senior offensive lineman Brett Boyko said that mentally, the team is fine. Motivation isn’t lacking, but execution and almost everything else has been.
Even the return of senior receiver Devante Davis could only lift spirits for brief moments. Davis, who hasn’t played since Sept. 20 because of wrist surgery, finished with six catches for 114 yards and one touchdown.
Although those numbers mean little in a 27-point loss, just being out there was big for Davis, who passed on a chance to enter the NFL Draft to return for his senior season.
“After surgery I wasn’t even supposed to come back until later, but I worked my behind off,” said Davis, who gave a lot of credit to UNLV’s training staff.
Now that he’s back, the Rebels’ passing game is better, sure, but it doesn’t fix the queue of other issues waiting to be addressed. From coaching on down, this season has been an ugly one for the Rebels, and if last week’s home loss to New Mexico was a new low point, today only reminded UNLV how far it has to climb back up.
“There’s not one single thing you can single out and say that’s why (we’re losing),” Hauck said. “… We have to do everything right.”
The voices calling for Hauck’s job will certainly get a little louder, though it’s clear nothing will happen before the end of the season. Even then, with decades of dismay in the record books and no one willing to put this all on Hauck, it’s not certain a change will come.
However, a fourth two-win season in five years, even if that fifth year was one of the better seasons in program history, would be hard to justify for any athletic director. The Rebels have a few more opportunities to increase that win total, and then it’s decision time.
And for a guy like Davis, who might have helped his personal future by not risking further injury this year, those opportunities mean everything.
“We definitely didn’t expect to be sitting at 2-8,” Davis said. “We’ve still got three games left, so if we’re stunned we need to get over it and be ready to go.”