Worst is probably over for UNLV

TUCSON, Ariz.

As beginnings go, this was as expected as a sea of red engulfing Arizona Stadium.

UNLV’s football team should see much better nights this season, mostly because it’s doubtful the Rebels will play a more talented team than the side it encountered Saturday before 50,103 and an ESPN audience.

Arizona routed UNLV for the second straight year, this time by a score of 58-13.

Up next for the Rebels: Northern Colorado on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Just a guess: The Bears won’t be as difficult to prepare for as Arizona.

This one was over before quarterback Anu Solomon hit Austin Hill with a quick slant to open the second half and Hill went 92 yards for a score, making it 31-6 Arizona before folks had a chance to return from their bathroom and concession breaks.

Before the Rebels were beat for yet another big pass play, missed another big tackle, failed again to have safety help over the top.

They were all constant themes in this season-opener for UNLV, dropping the Rebels to 0-5 in such games under head coach Bobby Hauck.

A bright spot: Arizona led 24-6 at halftime, which was much less than the blowout of 45-6 at intermission last year in Las Vegas. But as much as the Rebels looked improved on the scoreboard over 30 minutes, a few things remained just as clear this time.

Speed doesn’t mean everything, but it sure makes a huge difference when one side (Arizona) has a whole lot more of it. UNLV’s defense couldn’t keep up on the edge and then made critical mistakes (read: not tackling the person with the ball well enough) that made stopping the Wildcats near impossible.

Arizona had 393 yards at halftime and 689 after three quarters, ironic when its offense did as good a job early not making the score completely embarrassing as anything UNLV offered.

An overthrow in the end zone for a sure touchdown, a missed field-goal attempt and a false start inside UNLV’s 6-yard line resulted in just three Arizona points instead of 14.

Translation: It could have — and probably should have — been a lot worse.

UNLV was better last season defensively than at any time during Hauck’s tenure, which says something when you consider it allowed averages of 433 yards and 31.8 points.

But when you are woeful at something, as UNLV has been when trying to stop others for some time, progress can’t be measured in a typical manner.

Baby steps. Crawling.

It’s true UNLV has more depth than past seasons and yet still not near enough to keep up with the skill and speed of a team like Arizona.

Example: On the Wildcats’ first touchdown drive — three plays, 96 yards, 38 seconds, faster than you can read this sentence — UNLV had five second-string defensive players in the game.

Guys need breathers. On Arizona’s first two drives, which resulted in no points, UNLV didn’t substitute one of its 11 defensive players. On the third one, it did and the Wildcats scored in a blink.

They actually did three times, needing only eight plays and 1:45 of the clock to account for 28 of their points.

That’s not fast. That’s blinding.

It was also the Division I debut of two quarterbacks, with the former Bishop Gorman star Solomon getting the nod for Arizona and showing the sort of athletic plays that you figure he would deliver in zone-read scheme of Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez. Solomon missed chances early, but more than impressed for a first outing. He had thrown for 410 yards and four scores after three quarters, when the Wildcats led 48-13. By night’s end, he had thrown for a freshman record at Arizona.

Blake Decker started for UNLV and had already thrown 32 passes with 12:14 remaining in the third quarter. That’s what happens when you’re playing catch-up all evening.

Decker composed himself well, given the pressure he faced and the fact UNLV couldn’t run the ball well enough to take much pressure off him. Hauck said earlier in the week UNLV would do its best to huddle and control tempo — a claim no one listening believed given his team’s suspect run game — and it didn’t do any such thing.

The Rebels went no-huddle from the outset, which allowed starting wide receivers Devante Davis and Devonte Boyd each to gain over 100 yards.

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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