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Annual UNLV-UNR mismatch enough to drive some to drink

RENO — I have to believe the leading wide receiver in UNLV history was talking about what he had witnessed over the first 30 minutes of yet another football game against UNR that has become a laughable, one-sided series.

At halftime on Saturday, Ryan Wolfe tweeted the following: "Time to make a stronger drink."

Problem: I’m not sure there is a tonic robust enough to drown away how bad the Rebels are today.

This isn’t a rivalry anymore. It’s a scrimmage for the Wolf Pack, a day when Chris Ault’s team can go all video game on the Rebels and set one individual record after another.

UNLV against UNR is an annual mismatch in game plan and execution and coaching. It has been for seven straight years. There aren’t entire oceans bluer than the Fremont Cannon.

"That cannon needs to be blue," Ault said. "It needs to stay blue. That’s a big deal to us."

The big deal to UNLV on Saturday was completing a pass. It almost didn’t.

This is what regression during a rebuilding process looks like, a 37-0 loss to a team that while much better than UNLV, hardly resembles the best roster Ault has featured in his time here.

Don’t kid yourself. UNR players aren’t that much more skilled than those on UNLV, but Ault and his staff annually prove to be superior to their Rebels counterparts.

UNR does what well-coached teams do — compete on most weekends against better opponents (often winning) and drill lesser ones like UNLV.

The Rebels? They are fighting against the realities of too much youth, too little depth and not near enough ability. They are pressing and incredibly deficient at some spots, a recipe for one-sided losses, of which they’re experts at.

They are 0-10 on the road under Hauck, having lost those games by an average of 36.6 points.

Say this for UNLV: When it goes down, it does so as a sandcastle at high tide.

The most glaring example of a player trying too hard and failing for it is a sophomore quarterback who on Saturday took additional steps backward from what had been a noticeable improvement in fall camp and the first three games.

In some ways, this was even worse than throwing three pick-sixes against little ol’ Southern Utah.

At least against the Thunderbirds, Caleb Herring appeared confident in his throws.

Here, he didn’t complete a pass until 4:17 remained in the game. It went for 8 yards. He finished 1-for-14.

That the Rebels set school records for fewest completions and receiving yards in a game isn’t a shock. UNLV couldn’t block me right now.

But on those few snaps its linemen actually put their bodies in front of others, Herring was indecisive on where to throw, often missing open second and third options, often appearing not to recognize them at all.

You can’t blame him for rushing some decisions, not with the constant pressure he’s facing. But this wasn’t good offensively in the least, and he has to be much better for UNLV to compete with bad teams, never mind a decent one such as UNR.

"Confidencewise, after a loss like this, you don’t have much of it," Herring said. "You try and find something on film to get it back. The tape will tell the story — we didn’t finish drives, we didn’t convert on third downs, we didn’t move the ball."

They forced five turnovers and were shut out.

Read that sentence again.

They do things on a weekly basis offensively that are nearly impossible to accomplish. You could try to be this bad and not succeed.

They can’t run the ball, can’t block and aren’t sound enough in scheme or play-calling to worry anyone.

In two previous games against UNR, Rebels senior wide receiver Phillip Payne caught 18 balls for 282 yards.

On Saturday, just two passes were aimed in his direction — and not because UNR has Deion Sanders in his prime at cornerback.

UNLV was outgained 699-110 and allowed a quarterback — Tyler Lantrip — who didn’t enter the game for UNR until midway through the second quarter to throw for 366 yards and three touchdowns.

The Rebels held up as long as possible defensively but eventually broke down as the offense continued to sputter and fail.

This is when a bye week means nothing, when UNLV could have had a month to prepare for an opponent and still not won. The youth is obvious, but so, too, is the fact UNLV on Saturday was as overmatched with those wearing headphones as it was those playing.

"When you’re up against it," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said, "we just weren’t good enough to win up here."

And no amount of alcohol could disguise it.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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