Whether running back Tim Cornett plays against UNLV’s chief rival — or against any other football team this season — remains a mystery.
Cornett took a shot on his right knee in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-14 loss at Fresno State, and spent the remainder of the game on the sideline with a big ice pack on his knee.
Coach Bobby Hauck said he preferred to wait until the weekly injury report is released today to discuss Cornett’s injury.
“I’ll have better info on that,” Hauck said Monday. “It would be a wild guess right now.”
The Rebels (4-3, 2-1 Mountain West) could use Cornett. They are 6½-point underdogs to their upstate neighbor, and UNR (3-4, 2-2) has won the past eight meetings.
UNLV’s chances greatly improve if Cornett is ready to go. He broke the school’s all-time rushing record at Fresno State, his 3,158 yards nine more than previous record holder Mike Thomas, who played in 1973 and 1974.
Cornett also was having his best season at the time of the injury, averaging a career-high 101.3 yards per game. He also averaged 5.3 yards per rush, and had run for a personal-best nine touchdowns.
And at nearly 20 carries per game, Cornett was the workhorse the Rebels needed to balance their passing game. He has 133 rushes; Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is the next closest back at 37.
Should Cornett not play at UNR — or even past that game — the Rebels have decisions to make at that position. Do they go with a committee approach, and designate one player as the primary ballcarrier?
“We feel like we’ve got pretty good depth at running back, so it’s the next man up,” Hauck said. “It will probably be a couple of guys getting carries, I suppose.”
Backup Murray-Lawrence has shown big-play ability, but hasn’t shown he can be an every-down player. He averages 9.7 yards per carry, a number inflated by runs of 64, 79, 33 and 73 yards. Take away those plays, and Murray-Lawrence averages 3.3 yards.
It’s unclear if he could take the pounding of 10 to 15 carries a game, as Cornett has. Murray-Lawrence’s high is 10 against Western Illinois, though he produced 54 yards.
Behind him is Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith, once the presumed the backup after sitting out last season, but he has struggled to even get on the field. He has 56 yards on 19 carries, just a 2.9 average, and Smith has only three rushes in the past three games combined.
Hauck said that shouldn’t be read as a reflection on him, but more of being caught in the numbers game.
“There are so many plays to go around, and the other two guys have been getting a little more,” Hauck said.
Fourth-string back Keith Whitely, one of UNLV’s top signees in February, has seen limited action as a freshman. In his one extended time in the backfield, Whitely ran for 57 yards on nine carries against Western Illinois.
How to use the backs is a question Hauck and his staff hoped they wouldn’t have to consider going into the most important game on the Rebels’ schedule.
The best news for them would be if Cornett was healthy enough to play Saturday — and beyond.
NOTES — UNLV and UNR will wear their home jerseys. … ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach forecast UNLV to play Bowling Green in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.