UNLV’s loss to Minnesota last week had a familiar feeling to it, an all-too-familiar feeling.
The Rebels failed to take advantage of opportunities Thursday in Minneapolis, a theme repeated many times last season:
— UNLV opened at home against Minnesota, and led 10-7 entering the fourth quarter. The Golden Gophers forced overtime, and won 30-27 in triple OT on a 32-yard field goal after quarterback Nick Sherry was intercepted in the end zone.
— The Rebels took a 14-0 lead over visiting Northern Arizona, and went for the kill in the second quarter only to have a fake field goal become an incomplete pass when holder Caleb Herring overthrew Jordan Sparkman in the end zone. NAU began its rally with a punt return for a touchdown early in the second half, and won 17-14 on a 33-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.
— UNLV took leads of 21-0 and 28-7 while dominating the line of scrimmage against UNR. The Rebels went into halftime ahead 31-14, and appeared to have a crucial interception late in the fourth quarter, but cornerback Sidney Hodge was called for pass interference even though Wolf Pack wide receiver Aaron Bradley jumped over him and ripped off his helmet. UNR scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 42-37.
— Then last November, Herring appeared to have a key third-quarter touchdown on a fake field goal against Wyoming, but a replay showed he fumbled before crossing the goal line. Because the ball rolled through the end zone, the Cowboys were awarded possession at their 20-yard line, and they went on to beat UNLV 28-23.
Those missed chances were similar to Thursday when the Rebels outgained Minnesota by 99 yards, but allowed two touchdown returns on special teams plays and an 89-yard interception return to turn a competitive game into a 51-23 rout for the Gophers.
Coach Bobby Hauck downplayed any kind of mental challenges in trying to make key plays in tight games, saying the players simply have to execute.
“If you’re practiced up on it and you’ve seen it before, then it becomes doing what you’re supposed to do at the moment of truth,” Hauck said. “That’s what sports is. That’s what football, in particular, is — playing your assignment and doing it.”
Maybe it will take that one critical play for the Rebels to reverse the trend, and perhaps it begins with Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game against Arizona at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“We expect to win this week,” defensive end Jordan Sparkman said. “We’ve adjusted a lot. We’ve fixed and corrected what we needed to get done, and I feel good this week. I feel confident, and we’re going to be good. We’re going to play good, we’re going to play fast, we’re going to play hard.”
— The Rebels have faced Arizona just one other time. That was on Sept. 22, 2001 in Tucson, Ariz., and it was the Rebels’ first game since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that year. Arizona won, 38-21.
— Hauck’s “Chalk Talks” begin at noon today at Firkin Pub & Grill at 4503 Paradise Rd. The coach discusses the team and shows video at the luncheon, which is free to UNLV Rebel Football Foundation members and $20 for the general public. This event is each Thursday before a home game.
— This game was nearly played in Glendale, Ariz., but was kept in Las Vegas after negotiations broke down. UNLV is scheduled to open next season at Arizona.
FOR THE RECORD
— Sherry’s 35 completions at Minnesota set a school single-game record. It broke the previous mark of 33, established by Jon Denton in 1996 at San Jose State and matched last season by Sherry against Washington State.
— At 23 characters, running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence has the longest name in UNLV football history.
— UNLV’s 419 yards against Minnesota was most by a Rebels team in a Big Ten Conference stadium.
MARK ANDERSON/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL