Coaches' panicked play-calling in final minute burns Rebels

If a mirror is in the football coaching offices at UNLV, and I have to believe there is given the egos of men who choose such a profession, those paid to instruct the Rebels should spend this day looking into it.

Still needing a victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000, the Rebels on Saturday night had every chance to secure such a moment and failed.

When it mattered most, those who lead them panicked.

Utah State deserved every bit of its 28-24 victory at Sam Boyd Stadium but not in the way that the Aggies outplayed the Rebels. You would think those wearing blue and white departed Las Vegas feeling as fortunate as they did satisfied.

How ironic that a lasting image of UNLV’s loss was coach Bobby Hauck raising his arms in protest as his team’s final chance sailed as an incomplete pass out of bounds in the end zone.

Hauck seemed to be begging for an interference penalty.

His angst would have been better aimed at who was calling plays for UNLV on that final drive.

Hauck prefers to call such things “team efforts,” so whether it was him or offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach or some inebriated offensive guru in the sky calling plays, this fact doesn’t change: UNLV had first-and-10 from the Utah State 16 with 35 seconds remaining and all three of its timeouts, but the Rebels played the next four downs as if they had to travel 50 yards in 10 seconds with no timeouts.

They had an eternity and called plays as if they had to score in a blink.

All four pass attempts thrown by senior quarterback Caleb Herring were directed into the end zone. All fell incomplete. Only one, a first-down throw to junior wide receiver Marcus Sullivan, came close to being completed.

No attempt at a screen.

No attempt at a draw.

Not attempt to use underneath space, which was vast with green turf.

Everything was in UNLV’s favor. It had a short field. It had enough time. It had three timeouts.

One shot at the end zone is fine, but four straight in that situation?

UNLV coaches played the part of kindergartners running wildly from their classroom on a fire drill when they likely could have taken a brisk but controlled walk to a touchdown and sixth victory.

“No,” Hauck answered when asked if it was a mistake to call four straight pass plays into the end zone during that final sequence.

Why not? “Because I don’t.”

Well, he’s wrong.

He also was proven wrong in calling for a fake field goal midway through the second quarter, a play that seemed to surprise only Hauck that it failed so miserably.

If the Rebels kick a 25-yard field goal there, they need only another field goal to win the game in the end, and no one is talking about bizarre play-calling that made no sense on any level.

Hauck said that the fake field goal would work “80 percent of the time.”

That 20 percent sure did come back to bite him in the keister, huh?

“That’s a really good football team,” Hauck said of the Aggies. “They did a real nice job. It was a great football game, a great game.”

Wrong again. It wasn’t a great game. It was an entertaining game. It was a bit of a crazy game with touchdowns being called back and critical penalties and turnovers shifting momentum and UNLV defending well for all but third down, when it couldn’t for the life of itself get Utah State off the field.

The Aggies were 10 of 17 on third down, and four of the 10 conversions were for 10 or more yards. One went for 20. Another for 29.

It’s true that most teams nationally couldn’t lose a dynamic quarterback such as Chuckie Keeton (knee) for the year and replace him with a freshman as talented as Darell Garretson, but Utah State has.

Garretson threw for 288 yards and a touchdown but made countless plays with his feet to avoid sacks and keep drives alive. The Rebels looked to have him caught for losses several times, until they didn’t.

It’s not that Herring played awful — he completed 17 of 39 for 252 yards and two scores — but his third-quarter interception in the end zone proved a huge play in a one-possession game. Herring of 2013 looked a bit too much like the Herring of 2011 in important spots.

But the game still was there to be won. UNLV still owned every chance to grab that coveted sixth victory.

“Obviously,” Hauck said, “we needed another play or two.”

They had four of them from the Utah State 16.

With 35 seconds remaining.

And all three of their timeouts.

Kindergartners. Fire drill. Running. Screaming.



Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.