ELY — Here in this remote part of Nevada — which part of the state isn’t remote outside of Las Vegas and Reno/Carson City? — UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck tells his players they are on a road trip.
The stands at Broadbent Park are nearly completely empty for each preseason practice, and the players sleep in motel rooms rather than beds in their homes.
“It kind of prepares you for an away game because it’s not your environment,” senior wide receiver Devante Davis said.
Until last season, being on the road was a most uncomfortable place for the Rebels.
They went into that season with a 22-game road losing streak, second in school history to the 26-game skid from 1994 to 1998. Then the Rebels lost their 2013 opener at Minnesota, extending the streak to 23 games.
But it ended at that number, with the Rebels breaking through with a 56-42 victory at New Mexico on Sept. 28. Players doused Hauck with water on the sideline in the final minute, and gave him the game ball in the locker room.
“Everybody was excited to do something like that,” junior defensive tackle Sonny Sanitoa said of ending the skid. “It’s been a while since UNLV has done that. For us to win on the road and break that losing streak, there was a lot of excitement in the locker room.”
UNLV did more than just end the skid, the Rebels built off that victory in Albuquerque. They went on to win at UNR and in the snow at Air Force to finish 3-2 in away games, critical in earning the Rebels their first bowl bid since 2000.
“That kind of boosted our confidence,” Davis said of winning at New Mexico. “Just knowing that we can do this, so let’s go win some more.”
The Rebels tried to win one more after regular season, but lost in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. That technically wasn’t an away game, but in reality, it was on the road because nearby North Texas brought about 30,000 fans.
The key now is what that road success means entering this season.
For one, the failure to win on the road is a question that won’t be asked of the Rebels, who open their season at Arizona on Aug. 29. But more importantly, it’s a question the players won’t have to ask themselves.
“Just to win three games on the road was a miracle,” Sanitoa said. “We worked so hard in the summer and spring, and we told ourselves that we were going to win some games that year. To transition off (that) year going into the season, I think everybody’s positive and very excited to be playing.”
Hauck has always downplayed the road losing streak, denying it was a mental block and insisting the skid would end when the team became good enough.
Last season was evidence he was right. Until that season, the Rebels had won just six games over the previous three years combined. They had enough trouble winning even at Sam Boyd Stadium, which often can feel like a neutral site or worse with the lack of home crowd support.
So now that the skid is over, Hauck doesn’t want to make too big a deal about that, either. It’s the old cliche of going one game at a time for him, and no doubt that’s the best approach for any coach to take.
“We’re trying to win every week,” Hauck said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re playing.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.