Monday’s news conference took on a surprisingly somber tone given it’s just the second week of UNLV’s football season, but maybe coach Bobby Hauck and his players simply carried with them the quiet determination to make up for last week’s missed opportunity at Minnesota.
The Rebels had their chances before Thursday’s game got out of hand and turned into a 51-23 season-opening loss.
And moving forward, beginning with Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game against Arizona at Sam Boyd Stadium, they need to build on what was accomplished to have any meaningful success.
Hauck ticked off a few areas he said the team did well at Minnesota — the play in the trenches, competing to the end and sound tackling, among other positives. Holding up well on both sides of the offensive and defensive lines might have been the most surprising.
“In terms of getting pushed around by what I would consider to be a fairly good Big Ten offensive and defensive line, that didn’t happen,” Hauck said. “So that’s fairly encouraging.”
He also was encouraged by his team’s attempt to get back into the game. The Rebels drove to the 14-yard line early in the fourth quarter before a misread by quarterback Nick Sherry turned into an 89-yard interception return.
Had the Rebels instead scored a touchdown on that drive, they would have been a possession down with about 10 minutes left.
“I don’t think our former teams would’ve held up,” Hauck said. “It would’ve been like, ‘Here we go again.’ This group fought its way right back into that. They’re competitive.”
The improved tackling also was a positive sign, especially to a UNLV fan base accustomed to seeing opposing running backs and wide receivers routinely break through the grips of linebackers and safeties.
UNLV allowed the Golden Gophers to gain 320 yards, a figure the Rebels would take every week. They gave up a 445.2 yards per game last season and didn’t allow such a low yardage total since Northern Arizona gained 288 on Sept. 8 of last season.
Defense wasn’t responsible for all 51 points. Two special teams miscues and the critical interception return accounted for three Minnesota touchdowns.
UNLV’s tackling ability will be severely tested this weekend.
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey is expected to be back in the lineup after a suspension kept him out of Friday’s 35-0 victory Northern Arizona. Carey was charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct in December, but the charges were dropped in June. Whether the suspension was related to that situation was unclear.
But what is clear to Hauck is the challenge his Rebels will have trying to bring down Carey. He led the nation last season with 1,929 yards rushing.
“Ka’Deem Carey’s the best running back in the country,” Hauck said. “I don’t know if we can tackle him. No one tackled him very well last year.
“Had he not been a true sophomore (last season), I assume we wouldn’t be playing him.”
Carey is the key part of an offense quite different from what UNLV went against in Minneapolis.
Second-year coach Rich Rodriguez has taken his spread-option offense, with the emphasis on the running game, to the desert. He created that offense to turn West Virginia into a national title contender before a less successful stint at Michigan.
In Arizona, Rodriguez already is making opposing defensive coordinators stay up late trying to determine how they’re going to slow an offense that last season averaged a school-record 526.2 yards.
“There are going to be plays in space,” Hauck said. “You either make the plays or you don’t.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.