UNLV made sure, emphatically in fact, this would be no repeat of Southern Utah or Northern Arizona.
The Rebels took control early Saturday, and by early in the second half, the only drama was whether they would record their first shutout in six years.
They didn’t, but more importantly, the Rebels reached .500 for the first time under fourth-year coach Bobby Hauck, this 38-7 victory over Western Illinois at Sam Boyd Stadium also giving him back-to-back victories for the first time.
“It feels good to win,” Hauck said. “Externally, it’s viewed as you should win or it’s an easy win. There’s no such thing. They’re all like pulling teeth.
“I think this is just progress for our team.”
Another milestone: UNLV committed no penalties for the first time in program history.
Hauck will try to achieve another first next Saturday at New Mexico by winning his first road game at UNLV and ending the Rebels’ 23-game skid. The Rebels’ last road victory occurred in 2009 at New Mexico.
UNLV (2-2) takes momentum into that game, something that seemed inconceivable through the first two games and the first 1½ quarters the previous week against Central Michigan. But then the Rebels turned it on, beating the Chippewas 31-21 and then easily taking care of business against Western Illinois (2-2).
Including last week, UNLV scored 62 points in a row and didn’t allow a point over four quarters until Western Illinois’ Trenton Norvell ended that streak with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Joey Borsellino with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
All that score did, however, was cut UNLV’s lead to 31-7. The Rebels had done enough until that time to make sure they wouldn’t go down to a Football Championship Subdivision school for the third year in a row.
Southern Utah beat UNLV 41-16 two years ago, and NAU was a 17-14 victor last season.
Probably no one felt the sting of either of those losses more than UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring, who had three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the loss to Southern Utah.
Herring, though, earned the starting job for this game after coming off the bench to lead the Rebels to the victory over Central Michigan with a career game.
He didn’t do anything to lose that job in this game, completing 14 of 20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Herring also rushed for 57 yards on 12 carries.
“There’s no difference if I’m starting the first snap or if I’m not in the game,” Herring said. “I should always be ready to go.”
Hauck never publicly promised Herring would start this game, saying the quarterback would battle it out with Nick Sherry in practice during the week, but said he expected both to play.
Sherry did play, but not until the game was well decided. He entered with 10:43 remaining and UNLV ahead 38-7.
Hauck said it would be an ongoing competition all season, and it’s an even more competitive field at running back.
The Rebels rushed for 284 yards, with Tim Cornett gaining 83 yards on 12 carries, Keith Whitely 57 yards on nine attempts, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence 54 yards on 10 rushes and Adonis Smith 33 yards on six tries. UNLV averaged 5.8 yards per carry, and Cornett and Smith each ran for two touchdowns.
UNLV’s defense also shined, holding Western Illinois to 338 yards.
Linebacker Tani Maka had a strong night, with two tackles for loss and an interception early in the third quarter to set up a touchdown.
UNLV’s play as a whole, offensively and defensively, added up to its biggest victory since beating New Mexico 45-10 in 2010.
“It was fun to be in that locker room,” Hauck said. “I think our guys have a taste for (winning) and like it, and I hope we can continue.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.