QB Sherry's strides give Rebels hope

The joke went that after watching Nick Sherry play a football game for UNLV three weeks ago, the Rebels could at least hang their losing ways on this: Come spring practice, the starting quarterback wouldn't be switching positions.

Yes, this is me as a glass-half-full sort of guy.

Sherry is that promising.

He is a redshirt freshman who has the look of someone the Rebels can build around, even if it means we are still staring at a house without furniture or electricity or running water.

He was better last week than the previous one and much better Friday than last week, the kind of progression that's important for quarterbacks to make in a first season.

Washington State beat UNLV 35-27 at Sam Boyd Stadium, sending the Rebels to a third straight loss to begin the season. They were neither good or disciplined enough to win, but through the menacing storm cloud that is now a 4-24 record under coach Bobby Hauck appears to have emerged a flicker of light.

"Three losses, that's not really improvement," Sherry said. "My decision making has been a little better, but I need to make more plays. This team needs to make more plays on offense. We didn't make a couple plays we should have. I made a bad mistake with a (first-quarter interception).

"Last year, we had some blowout losses. This year, we came in saying that we would take every game into the fourth quarter."

I like him. He's big enough (6 feet 5 inches tall, 240 pounds), tough enough, can make the difficult throws. He struggles finding the correct pace at times, the rhythm needed for certain situations, but all that comes in time.

He appears to have a lot of that left at quarterback, too.

Caleb Herring led the Rebels in passing last year. He caught five passes for 68 yards as a wide receiver Friday. Travis Dixon led them in passing in 2007. He eventually became a defensive back. Mike Clausen started some at quarterback between 2008-11. He became a safety. Taylor Barnhill started two games at quarterback in 2011, switched to linebacker and is now a tight end.

Consistency is important. It's invaluable at quarterback. Sherry on Friday tied a UNLV record with 33 completions, throwing for 351 yards and three scores. The one pick was tipped. He threw 49 times.

He did things like complete 6 of 6 passes over the final 3:05 of the first half when driving the Rebels 64 yards for a field goal that cut the margin to 28-20 at intermission. Earlier, one play after Washington State went up 28-10, Sherry hit Marcus Sullivan with a sideline route that went 75 yards for a score.

The last time UNLV had a freshman quarterback with so much promise, it was 1996 and Jon Denton was throwing for over 3,500 yards. The Rebels didn't win much back then, either, but in Denton they had a player who put up points and excited crowds.

The Rebels had much better receivers in '96, so Hauck isn't going to suddenly become Mike Leach in his offensive approach. The Cougars coach, by the way, proved even more of a loon than usual Friday when running on fourth-and-4 from the UNLV 38 and stopping the clock with 40 seconds left on change of possession. The call baffled everyone. Leach probably thought it a smart one. He's crazy that way.

UNLV's running back (Tim Cornett) of today is better than anyone who lined up behind Denton, meaning balance is a better option now. But if this is the path that Hauck's third team will take, meaning one that could again struggle finding a few wins, allowing Sherry as much freedom as possible over the next few months might not only produce dividends in the future, but entice people to come out and watch.

"I agree Nick has improved each week," Hauck said. "In terms of the timing, he's going to grow. He's a freshman.

"We came up short again and are obviously bitterly disappointed about that. I love our guys. We have a lot of character, a lot of investment in our locker room. I think we have a chance to be a decent football team. We're not a good team right now, but I don't think we're a bad team. We're an average team right now."

With a promising freshman at quarterback.

The glass is half full this week, folks.

Nick Sherry is the reason.

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.