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Foolish play-calling yields embarrassing result

The funniest sight, and there were plenty given how awful UNLV’s football team was Saturday, might have been the two policemen sitting atop horses in the west end zone at game’s end, apparently guarding against anyone trying to tear down the goal post.

That would have inferred the 41-16 final was an upset, that the better team had lost, that little Southern Utah was fortunate to have left Sam Boyd Stadium with a victory.

Think again.

The Rebels were bad enough to lose worse. UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood told a reporter during halftime that there is a reason games last two halves, his program at the moment tied with Southern Utah 10-10.

It would have taken six halves for the Rebels to stand a chance. Or, more likely, lose by 60 instead of 25.

Somewhere in the paradise that is Hawaii, a college team and its coaching staff today undoubtedly are whacking themselves in the heads with coconuts, shocked and dejected they lost to UNLV.

Lost to a team that for the 10 steps forward it took as a program a week ago, retreated the length of 10 fields on Saturday.

"Everything we did in (beating Hawaii) is gone," Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. "Everyone in our locker room is at an all-time personal low in their football careers. This is all-time bad. This can’t happen. We can’t ever, ever, ever let what happened tonight happen again.

"We’re going back to square one. We’re going back to spring ball. We’re going to practice long and hard and physical. It’s a toughness check for everyone."

It better be a time of improvement for the offense and those coaches running it.

Southwest Flight 615 departed Louisville on Saturday morning with a short stopover in Chicago, landing in Las Vegas at 12:35 p.m., plenty of time for a former Rebels head coach to catch a taxi out to the stadium and review the game plan.

You have to figure a certain Louisville offensive coordinator spent his bye week here giving pointers to his UNLV counterpart in Rob Phenicie, given the bizarre and unexplainable play-calling the Rebels offered against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, a fancy way of saying a-team-anyone-with-a-brain-and-average-backs-should-run-on-all-night.

The Thunderbirds had allowed an average of 164 yards rushing in its three previous games, all against FCS opponents.

UNLV rushed for 108 total.

It rushed for 8 in the second half.

This was a mess from UNLV’s first offensive play. It was a pass, which set a tone that never should have been set. The fact UNLV didn’t establish the run against this team from the moment the Rebels stepped off their bus was as foolish as it was disturbing.

How can you look this desperate — or arrogant — in your play-calling against Southern Utah?

■ Why, leading 7-0 and staring at first-and-goal from the 1 after your offense had rushed for 49 yards the previous five plays, would you allow a sophomore quarterback (Caleb Herring) to check out of a run and throw a pass that results in offensive interference, which kills a drive that finishes with a fumble?

If UNLV goes up 14-0 there, this is a different game. But the Rebels overthought the room and paid for it dearly.

You can’t be as bad as that call was, can you?

■ Why would you come out of a tie game at halftime throwing again, a play that resulted in one of three Herring interceptions that were returned for touchdowns?

The Rebels handed Southern Utah four scores. You can’t beat a pee-wee team doing that. UNLV couldn’t protect Herring, and when it did, he made bad decisions. It’s almost impossible to throw three pick-sixes in one game, but Herring found a way.

UNLV’s only touchdown came off a fake field goal, and the Rebels later tried (and failed) a fake punt on fourth-and-18, but had the punter (Chase Lansford) throw the ball instead of snapping it to an up-back and former quarterback (Mike Clausen). In short, UNLV didn’t make a correct call all night on key plays, save one gimmick for a score.

"Everyone has to look in the mirror and it starts with the head coach," Hauck said. "It starts with me."

It’s one of the reasons I like Hauck. The offensive coordinator from Louisville never would have pointed the first finger at himself, never took the initial bullet after such a disaster, never accepted this much responsibility while tripping over cables and screaming to speak to the athletic director.

That said, if this isn’t the lowest point UNLV has been in a while, you can see it from where the Rebels stand today.

Back up those horses, officers.

Upsets don’t read 41-16.

But good ol’ fashioned butt-whippings do.

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. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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