UNLV aims to grab elusive third victory

HONOLULU - In most measurable ways, UNLV has improved, except in the way that matters most.

The Rebels again are stuck on two victories - clouding in the minds of many how much progress UNLV's long-struggling football program has made.

But UNLV can do something about that in today's 8 p.m. PST game at Hawaii.

Yes, getting to three victories wouldn't be a program-changing accomplishment for the Rebels (2-10, 2-5 Mountain West Conference), but it would be notable.

They finished with two wins in each of the past two seasons and in six of the past eight.

"I think (winning) would be big, just showing we're a better team," running back Tim Cornett said.

So to get to three wins is important but difficult for a UNLV team that has lost 21 consecutive road games. This could be, however, a great opportunity to stop the skid. The Rebels are 3½-point favorites over Hawaii (1-9, 0-7).

Hawaii has lost by an average of 41-18, and the Warriors average just 93.5 yards rushing and 188.4 passing. They haven't announced whether junior Sean Schroeder or sophomore Jeremy Higgins will start at quarterback.

UNLV has its own questions at quarterback, and it could go to game time whether redshirt freshman Nick Sherry (back) plays or junior Caleb Herring starts for the second week in a row.

The Rebels can rely on a strong running game, with juniors Cornett and Bradley Randle having combined to rush for 1,817 yards and 15 touchdowns. They could shine against a Hawaii defense that allows 222.6 yards rushing per game.

UNLV's running attack has helped the team improve its scoring margin from a 21.5-point deficit two years ago and 23.1 last season to 8.3 now. The Rebels, in other words, have closed the gap by about two touchdowns per game.

That speaks not only of gains in the program but just how deep it had sunk to where three-touchdown defeats were the norm.

UNLV's 23.0 scoring average is its highest since 2009, and its yardage average of 381.6 is the best since 2002. Similarly, the defensive scoring average of 31.3 is the lowest since 2007.

The 454.0 yards per game the Rebels allow, though, is the worst since 2009 and roughly the same as the past three seasons.

It might take election expert Nate Silver, who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states in this year's presidential election, to make sense of all the numbers as to where the program stands.

But if elections are a bottom-line business, so is football.

UNLV doesn't want to be stuck on two victories again. Getting to three wouldn't represent vast improvement, but it might make more sense of those other numbers that seem to mostly be going in a positive direction.

"We want our seniors to win going out the door," third-year coach Bobby Hauck said. "We want to springboard ourselves into the offseason and feel good about how we finish with this last game.

"Obviously, we know we're a better football team than we've been, but we want to win games. That would be big for us."

The Rebels have only 15 seniors, and those players know what's at stake.

"I love my teammates," senior linebacker John Lotulelei said. "I wish them the best next year to have a great season."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.