Stadium? Rebels need to focus efforts on field

HOUSTON

TDECU Stadium is the new home to the Houston football program, a 40,000-seat structure that cost $120 million to build and has a concourse wide enough to stretch to Dallas.

It’s the sort of impressive on-campus facility that could do wonders for UNLV and is a better and more logical vision than some billion-dollar domed stadium that didn’t make sense even before original plans interfered with an airport’s flight path.

This is what UNLV officials do now when visiting such a place.

They take notes and compare this new stadium to that one.

They dream of a brighter future.

It’s too bad, then, that the school’s football team can’t seem to move on from its woeful ways for good.

You have to believe at this point that last season’s 7-6 record and bowl appearance was more hallucination than reality about UNLV taking a major step forward from its losing ways, the evidence being a nonconference showing best described as dreadful.

What was thought progress in January must now be judged as regression.

The Rebels were blasted by Houston 47-14 before 23,408 on Saturday night, and don’t for a second think it had anything to do with the Cougars being some ultra-talented college power.

Houston is every bit an average 2-2 team, and yet you don’t have to be anything special when opposing a team with UNLV’s deficiencies.

The Rebels are 1-3 in nonconference play and undoubtedly will be 1-4 in such tussles following a game at Brigham Young on Nov. 15, with only a 13-12 win against Northern Colorado to show for any momentum gained by that Heart of Dallas Bowl appearance.

But there hasn’t been any.

Nor has there been much noticeable improvement.

Bobby Hauck has often said this, his fifth UNLV team, is the best he has coached during his tenure.

That’s a major problem, given the Rebels have been outscored 165-74 in four games.

UNLV is going the wrong way again. It hardly needs directions.

The Rebels haven’t been good enough in forever to overcome the sort of mistakes made Saturday and have any chance at success. UNLV was penalized 11 times for 171 yards. You name it, the Rebels were called for it. They had more brain-cramps than a law student studying for the bar.

“Atrocious,” Hauck said.

He has worse issues. UNLV isn’t going to stop anyone good, not the way it has defended in the season’s first month. It’s important, then, that the offense produces consistent weekly results.

Blake Decker is proving to be every bit the junior college transfer at quarterback, meaning he has looked good at times and average at others and bad at others. He was more the latter Saturday, completing 12 of 28 passes for 113 yards with two interceptions and having yet again a handful of attempts batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Decker is listed at 6 feet 2 inches tall, but that means it’s either a generous suggestion by those measuring or he’s playing in platform boots. Either way, he has struggled making consistent reads.

It’s not as simple to suggest Decker should be replaced by former starter Nick Sherry. He shouldn’t yet. UNLV begins Mountain West play Saturday at San Diego State, and Decker has done enough to earn the first opportunity in league. It’s also true the Mountain West is a pedestrian outfit this season. No team appears all that special.

More important, if you saw the junior Sherry in limited time Saturday (he was 4 of 11 for 33 yards and an interception), you would see he still has a major confidence problem when throwing the ball. He thinks too much, and that’s a recipe for turnovers. Sherry hasn’t looked the same since losing the job last year.

But it’s not just the quarterback or the defense or the penalties or a sudden rash of injuries.

It’s all of that and more.

It’s not believing Houston would and could run the ball and then surrendering 399 yards on the ground. It’s not capitalizing on those turnovers your defense actually creates. It’s stretch run plays with no chance at succeeding on third-and-3 and a limited-at-best deep passing game that counts on interference calls as much as anything else.

It’s just so many things.

It’s being pretty good for a half against Arizona and flat against Northern Colorado and pretty good for a half against Northern Illinois and average for a half in Houston.

And brutal the rest of the time.

“I don’t think it’s right to panic in the middle of a season,” Hauck said. “Nothing good comes from that. It’s rarely successful. We need to be better in all areas, from fundamentals to how we call it to flat making plays. We have yet to play a complete game, and that means I have to do a better job.”

It’s him and his staff and the quarterback and the conservative play calls and the defense and the penalties and the injuries and anything else you can name.

It’s everything.

What a 1-3 record isn’t: progress.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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