UNLV would seem to be a mental wreck after a stunning run of errors in its first two games, but looking inside a football player’s head is almost impossible.
Only words and actions can provide insight.
The words from the Rebels this week were positive, that their confidence hadn’t suffered a tremendous blow.
“It would be different if we felt like we played our best football and got blown out in both games,” linebacker Tim Hasson said. “I feel like our best game has yet to be seen, and that’s where a lot of guys are still confident. We know we’re better than how we’ve played the last two games.”
Saturday night, the Rebels (0-2) get to show if their actions match their words when they play Central Michigan (1-1) at 7 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
UNLV is a 7-point favorite in the first of a four-game stretch of potentially winnable games. The Rebels must do well in this quartet of games to have any realistic hope of a promising season because the second half of the schedule gets considerably more difficult.
That means a victory over Central Michigan is crucial.
If the Rebels are to win, they need to cut down on the ghastly mistakes committed in one-sided losses to Minnesota and Arizona. It’s one thing to throw an interception or have a field goal blocked, but to repeatedly have those plays immediately turn into touchdowns are game-killers.
Minnesota scored touchdowns off a kickoff return, a blocked field goal and an interception. Arizona brought two interceptions all the way back and set up a third touchdown with a fumble return to UNLV’s 9-yard line.
“No one is going to win when you do those things, let alone against those two teams we just played,” coach Bobby Hauck said.
Quarterback Nick Sherry was responsible for the three interceptions that became touchdowns as well as the fumble, and he was benched for the second half against Arizona. Hauck said Sherry and Caleb Herring would compete all week to become tonight’s starter, but Sherry ran the first-team offense in practice and possesses the stronger track record.
If Sherry starts, the onus is on him to forget those mistakes and make plays to get the offense going. Hauck said Sherry has the mental toughness to fight back, but acknowledged saying so and actually getting it done are two different things.
The quarterback position isn’t the only area of concern.
UNLV’s secondary also could get tested after facing two run-first teams. Central Michigan redshirt freshman Cooper Rush makes his first start after coming off the bench to pass for 326 yards and three touchdowns last weekend against New Hampshire.
Whether it’s winning a shootout or a low-scoring game, the Rebels must find a way to prevail if they are to salvage their season.
“We’re going to try to put those (first) two games behind us,” Hasson said. “We can’t sit and dwell about that and wish we could’ve done this or could’ve done that better. Now we’ve got to look to … get the ball rolling and look to get our first win of the season.”
Running back Tim Cornett said the team understands the urgency.
“We can’t get down, knowing our goal is going to a bowl game,” he said. “We can’t get down deeper in a hole to go 0-3 or 0-4.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.