UNLV's comedy routine is long-running flop

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Save yourself some money the next time you think about attending a show on the Strip. It might be nice to see Blue Man Group or "The Producers," but certainly no more entertaining than watching UNLV's football team flounder up and down a field like some old-time vaudeville act.

Hand it to the Rebels, though. They used to lose and be boring. Now they lose in ways that demand you at least pay attention in case a gust of wind that would accompany your basic F5 tornado results in 7-yard punts or some safety gets faked out of his shoes like a kicker trying to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

It's becoming a popular theme -- UNLV losing games it could have won against no more than average competition -- because the Rebels still don't consistently understand the concept of disciplined football. They whiffed on it again Saturday and left here a 31-14 loser to Air Force.

They have now lost consecutive games to equivalent opponents for no other reason than the other guys played smarter.

By the way, if two minutes have passed since you read this far, eight babies have been born in the United States and Casey Flair has committed another personal foul.

The UNLV junior wide receiver was whistled for two more here and now has five on the season. In a year that looks more and more like it will produce the program's seventh straight non-winning record, Flair at least might make NCAA history for costing his team yards.

But he plays offense, meaning he isn't on the side of the ball that most contributed to this defeat. For every step forward UNLV's defense took the first five games, it gave most of them back here.

It turned a 7-7 game at halftime into a comfortable Air Force win because it didn't tackle, didn't cover, didn't stop what should have been short gains from becoming huge ones, didn't have a clue in the secondary on how to defend the option. That, and the Rebels again made a good quarterback in Shaun Carney appear great.

Carney is his program's career leader in total offense but might not be among the Top 10 if not for his obvious delight of playing the Rebels. He rushed for 73 yards and a score and passed for 123 Saturday. He walks away from the series having rushed for six TDs and passed for six in four games against UNLV. The Rebels today can't wait to see someone named Shea Smith play. He's listed as Carney's backup.

"Obviously, we didn't play well enough to win," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. "We just didn't do a good job. But I'm not going to allow this team to be defeated. Defeat means you give up and we're not giving up. We're going to fight back ... We thought coming in whatever team responded better from (rivalry losses) last week would win. Obviously, they responded better than we do. I don't know why."

I do. You can't run 30 more plays, have 11 more first downs and outgain your opponent 471-432 -- as UNLV did -- and produce only 14 points. You can't have fourth-and-1 from the Air Force 26 in a scoreless game and once again not let Frank Summers run the ball because, well, what were bizarre play calls up to this point are now just foolish.

You can't jump offside when Air Force has a fourth-and-3 from your 4 and hand the Falcons a first-and-goal from which they would score. You can't have Summers try to jump into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 and be stopped when he should just lower his shoulder and plow forward.

You can't miss 27-yard field-goal attempts down seven in the fourth quarter. You can't have Flair's second personal foul force your punter into the back of his own end zone, because bad luck -- say, a massive wind -- might find his kick and the ball might land on your own 13 and Air Force just might ice the game with a field goal a few minutes later. You can't continue to treat the red zone like a war zone.

Throw when they should run. Run when they should throw. Quarterback keepers on short-yardage downs with Summers in the backfield. Two punts that equaled 26 yards. A six-play offensive stretch that included two false starts and a snap infraction. Dropped passes that would have been touchdowns.

Man, say this for the Rebels: That's some funny entertainment.

Ed Graney's column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.