Put it this way: It’s not the most ideal situation.
UNLV’s football team has a man in Bobby Hauck coaching for his job this season and a starting quarterback who is playing like a shaken fighter pilot in “Top Gun.”
The simple fact for sophomore Nick Sherry, as Viper told Maverick on the big screen decades ago, is that he has a confidence problem.
UNLV has the problem of being 0-2, having lost at Minnesota and home to Arizona by a combined score of 109-36, having dropped games most predicted they would and yet certainly not in the manner you might have expected from a team in its fourth year of a coach’s tenure.
If the season, and Hauck’s pursuit of securing a fifth one guiding the Rebels, is to truly begin against Central Michigan on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, Sherry must cease in making the most critical of mistakes.
Viper also told Maverick that good pilots are compelled to always evaluate what has happened and apply what they have learned.
The same goes for quarterbacks. Sherry has much to evaluate and apply.
Whether his coach will give him an immediate opportunity to try is a different matter.
Hauck said he will leave the quarterback position open for competition between Sherry and senior Caleb Herring this week in practice, the latter having replaced Sherry for the second half of an Arizona game that the Rebels trailed 45-6 at intermission.
By then, Sherry had thrown two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. He also had one taken back at Minnesota and has thrown 11 picks in his past five games dating to last season.
He keeps throwing to the wrong colored jersey.
He also needs to start Saturday.
There is a reason Sherry won the job as a redshirt freshman, a reason coaches talked so glowingly about him since he arrived in 2011, a reason many believed UNLV had finally found a long-term answer at the most important position after eight different season-opening starters in a nine-year span.
Sherry remains UNLV’s best option to win games, to have that balanced offense Hauck talks so much about featuring. Herring adds valuable experience, but departed the quarterback position to play wide receiver last year. Had he been the best option under center all along, he never would have contemplated such a switch.
Sherry remains UNLV’s most gifted quarterback.
Question is, has all the miscues climbed inside his helmet and rocked his resolve?
“I think Nick is a confident guy,” Hauck said. “I don’t think he is easily shaken. But, again, and this is for all of us with the quarterback being the most visible guy, Saturday is our exam after a week of preparing. We all need to go out and perform well and cut it loose and be the team we all think we can be. It starts with the quarterback.
“Everything that can be said (to Sherry) has been said. Over the years, some guys get it going and some don’t. When things are going well, they go well. The next week, you have a meltdown. As individuals, we have to yank ourselves out of it, and as coaches we have to help them do that. It all comes down to playing well on Saturday.”
UNLV isn’t very good right now. It’s absolutely not good enough to remain in games doing this: In the past two weeks, the Rebels have allowed five touchdowns either by turnovers or special teams blunders. Five scores with their defense on the sidelines.
Alabama might not be able to overcome that. Oregon could, but only because you could see the Ducks being able to win games 87-84.
Three of the five scores have come when Sherry made terrible reads and watched defenders return passes meant for his receivers. He also lost a fumble against Arizona that led to a touchdown.
He just can’t seem to get off this roller-coaster of results — throw for the fourth-most yards as a freshman in conference history last year but also have 17 interceptions to 16 touchdowns, set a school record for completions with 35 at Minnesota two weeks ago but get benched for the second half against Arizona.
He just can’t stop following good with bad.
“Some of it has been about decisions and some getting fooled — it’s not one thing all the time,” Hauck said. “If there was a trend to the (interceptions), there would be better answers in terms of preparation for the game. But it’s a variety of things.
“Nick is a tough guy, a tough kid, a guy that has the ability to bounce back. Doing so within a game, that’s probably an art for more veteran players. But week in and week out, I think he has shown the ability to pull himself out of it.”
Maverick did. Blew those bogeys right out of the sky.
Hauck is coaching for his job. His quarterback has a confidence problem.
Two games in, it’s not the most ideal situation.
But it’s the card UNLV must play. No matter which way Hauck eventually goes — win enough to secure a fifth year or be shown the door — his best option at quarterback remains a shaken fighter pilot.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.