Rick Bowmer / AP
Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 | 9:45 p.m.
UNLV has no answer for the inevitable, and that’s exactly what it faced tonight at BYU.
Lining up against the decidedly average Cougars (6-4), the Rebels (2-9, 1-5) literally dropped what little chance they had and the only sign of much-needed risk-taking they put forth was Jonathan Leiva’s squib kicks that only worked once. It felt like these teams could play 10 times, and without dramatic changes from UNLV’s sideline all of them would end with a BYU 42-23 victory.
“We’re not good enough to not capitalize,” Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said.
UNLV has two games remaining, a trip to Hawaii and then home for the Battle for the Fremont Cannon on Nov. 29.
The Rebels’ biggest problems were the plays within their grasp that they failed to make. One example was Keith Whitely’s drop on a screen pass near midfield with UNLV down only 7-3 and a wall of blockers in front of him.
The more common swings and misses came from the defensive front seven, which did a good job getting pressure but several times allowed BYU quarterback Christian Stewart to escape a sure tackle, and he usually made UNLV pay. Stewart threw for three touchdowns while Liberty High grad Kai Nacua was solid for the Cougars on the opposite side, registering five tackles and an interception.
That pick was UNLV quarterback Blake Decker’s 15th of the season, which coming into the day would tie him for second most in the country. It got worse for the former BYU walk-on when he took a shot early in the third quarter and didn’t return to the game.
Decker was 10-of-25 for 90 yards. Freshman backup Jared Lebowitz entered the game in relief for the second straight week and tossed his first career touchdown pass to freshman Devonte Boyd, who later broke Ryan Wolfe’s UNLV freshman record with his 56th catch this season.
“At first I didn’t know I was even close to breaking the record, but it’s a great accomplishment,” said Boyd, a Basic High grad.
That pretty much sums up the good news for the Rebels. The rest was a mishmash of the same old problems.
Throughout the first half, the score was close but it never felt that way. While UNLV was grinding out whatever they could, Stewart was missing open targets. It was clear the points were going to start coming for the Cougars, which is why it was puzzling UNLV didn’t go for fourth-down attempts in the red zone.
At this point, what is there for the Rebels to lose? Yet inside the 5-yard line with a little momentum from Leiva’s successful squib kick and the score at 14-10, Hauck opted to kick a field goal to cut the deficit to one.
“Based on what the score was, three points was beneficial to the score differential, so that’s why we did that,” Hauck said.
Completely true, except that Hauck multiple times acknowledged the Rebels knew field goals wouldn’t be good enough. So why not pull out all the stops?
BYU responded with a touchdown drive that took 1 minute and 29 seconds. Then, right out of halftime, the Cougars marched down for another score in 1:33. That made the margin 15, and even when they were gifted a fumble a few minutes later inside BYU’s 20-yard line, the Rebels settled for another field goal.
The chances were there just like they’ve been there all season, and once again UNLV couldn’t do even close to enough with them. Now the Rebels go back on the road, where they’ve lost every game by at least two touchdowns. They haven’t given up, though, which at the end of an ugly year could count for something in certain circles.
“Our guys play really hard,” Hauck said. “They fire me up. It was fun being out there with them tonight.”
Not many coaches would describe a 19-point loss, the ninth defeat of the season and 46th in five years, as fun. But when something feels inevitable, it’s hard to get too broken up about it.