FRESNO, Calif. — Senior running back Tim Cornett has the chance to make UNLV football history tonight, but he’s got a bigger goal in mind.
Even though oddsmakers label the visiting Rebels 25½-point underdogs in a line that even has moved No. 17 Fresno State’s way since it opened, Cornett isn’t ready to abandon hope.
“If we go in there and play our best game, I feel like we can come out with the win,” Cornett said. “I feel like (playing our best) is what we’re going to go out there and do.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. The game will be shown free online at reviewjournal.com/unlvfootball and at unlvrebels.com.
It’s difficult to blame Cornett, or any of his teammates, if they feel good about themselves. The Rebels (4-2, 2-0 Mountain West) are on a four-game winning streak, their longest in 13 years.
But they were supposed to win those games, or at least compete in them. This game against Fresno State (5-0, 2-0) is different, even if the winner takes first place alone in the West Division. San Diego State, which also is 2-0 in conference play, is off this weekend.
The Bulldogs’ offense hasn’t slowed down against anyone, averaging 47.4 points and 538 yards per game. Quarterback Derek Carr is on target to repeat as Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, averaging a league-best 372.8 yards passing, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19-to-4.
“The thing I’m impressed with is he gets the ball out,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “He doesn’t wait around, and he doesn’t hold on to it for a long time. He knows where he’s going with it, and delivers accurately and on time.”
UNLV, though, brings its own high-powered offense into this game. The Rebels average 33.3 points and 447.2 yards per game.
They also face a Fresno State defense that has been far from a lock-down unit. The Bulldogs allow 33.4 points and 444.8 yards per game. Anticipating a shootout, oddsmakers put the total at 74½ points.
Caleb Herring is UNLV’s answer to Carr, and though he doesn’t possess the same head-turning statistics, his play has been the key to the Rebels’ resurgence. Herring is completing 69.4 percent of his passes and averaging 183 yards, with nine touchdowns and one interception.
He’s becoming more effective, too, having thrown for 678 yards and five touchdowns the past two games. Receivers Devante Davis and Marcus Sullivan combined the catch 33 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns in those games.
Such production helped UNLV’s offense generate 568 yards at New Mexico and 579 against Hawaii.
Cornett was a big part of that, rushing for 179 yards against New Mexico and 162 against Hawaii, scoring a combined five touchdowns. He stands only 40 yards behind career leader Mike Thomas, who rushed for 3,149 yards in 1973 and 1974.
Cornett has always hungered for more than personal success, and now the Rebels are producing as a team as well.
“Coming into the season, people really had doubts about us,” Cornett said. “The record being broken I felt was a personal goal for me, but to have success as a team and be 4-2 and be at the place we are now just makes it that much better.”
Cornett would put the record on hold if it meant pulling off the upset.
A victory, as unexpected as it would be, would place the Rebels within one win of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2000.
They have six games to find two victories.
“We’re not really looking just to win two more games,” Rebels offensive tackle Brett Boyko said. “We approach every game individually, and we want to continue to build up. We want to try to win every game we play, so we’re ignoring everybody who’s trying to say, ‘Just two more,’ because we know in our locker room what we’re shooting for.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.