Caleb Herring knows what fellow UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry is going through because he has been there himself.
Herring suffered his own confidence-rattling meltdown nearly two years ago to the day, beginning a long and difficult climb back.
The hope Herring provides Sherry is the possibility of better days ahead.
Herring, a senior, is coming off the best game of his UNLV career, and he could be the starter when the Rebels (1-2) play Western Illinois (2-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Coach Bobby Hauck said which quarterback gets the most snaps in that game will be based more on situation than design.
“It seems like with those guys it’s whoever has the hot hand,” Hauck said.
Herring had that hand against Central Michigan, completing 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. His 85.7 completion percentage set a school record, and he was named the Mountain West offensive player of the week.
More importantly, Herring showed his cool in coming off the bench and eventually leading the Rebels out of a 21-0 hole to a 31-21 victory, tying the largest comeback in team history.
It also capped his personal comeback from two seasons of losing his starting job and even his position altogether, but Herring said he knew the ability was there to produce.
“It was just a matter of going out and executing,” Herring said. “It honestly wasn’t anything special on my part. I didn’t do anything outside of myself.”
UNLV’s new offense seems to fit Herring, who was recruited by previous coach Mike Sanford to play the spread. First-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach, however, said the system is flexible enough to accommodate both quarterbacks.
The Rebels also need Sherry to be successful since he still remains the future at quarterback.
Herring (6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds) once was considered the future as well, earning the starting job before his sophomore season two years ago.
He showed early promise, completing 18 of 27 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against No. 11 Wisconsin, and two games later hitting on 17 of 29 attempts for 178 yards and a touchdown in an upset victory over Hawaii.
Then it all came crashing down in the fourth game against Southern Utah. Herring had three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the upset loss.
He put on a brave face the rest of the season, even in front of teammates, but that game haunted Herring, who acknowledged his confidence took a tremendous hit and struggled the rest of the season.
“There were definitely some private moments where you’ve got to let out some frustration or have some emotion about the situation,” Herring said. “But it has to stay private. It has to stay away from the team. It can’t be brought in as a distraction.”
Herring battled Sherry for the job in the 2012 preseason, but it never seemed like a fair fight. Sherry ran the first-team offense throughout training camp, and Hauck’s decision to name him the No. 1 quarterback wasn’t close to a surprise.
Then Sherry justified the choice by beginning last season strong, and at one point was on pace to smash the Mountain West freshman passing record. Herring, meanwhile, played more at receiver than quarterback, starting four games and catching 18 passes for 136 yards.
But Herring also received an opening to go back to quarterback toward the end of the season. Sherry, who injured his back Oct. 20 at Boise State, didn’t play nearly a month later against Wyoming. Herring went in and completed 22 of 36 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 home loss.
“That definitely (gave me) the confidence to still do it, that I’m still a good quarterback,” Herring said.
He then went into spring and grabbed the backup job, and approached camp in August with the mindset of pushing Sherry. Herring did, putting together probably his best preseason at UNLV.
Sherry remained the starter, but continued his run at the end of last season of throwing interceptions. He has five picks this season and 12 in his past seven games, and if anyone on the team can relate to Sherry’s struggles, it’s Herring.
The two have been friends throughout their battles, and one of Sherry’s top supporters is Herring.
“These guys work together pretty well,” Rosenbach said. “It’s awesome to see that. You don’t see that everywhere you go.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.