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UNLV helpless against Power of the Panhandle

There is no truth to the rumor that as he was leaving the game in the third quarter after completing only 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards against the 11 blocks of granite formerly known as the University of Idaho football defense, UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton asked coach Bobby Hauck if he could switch to safety, too.

But other than the five guys from Las Vegas running up and down the field with a big “V” on their helmets — guys who were told they weren’t good enough to play for the Rebels by the previous coaching regime, or worse, were ignored by it — who could have foreseen this? UNLV was getting blown out 30-7 by a team that plays in an airplane hangar.

Raise your hand if you underestimated the Power of the Panhandle.

Hauck did.

“They’re well coached, and we have a healthy dose of respect for the things they’ve done,” said the first-year UNLV coach, perhaps alluding to Idaho’s thrilling 43-42 victory over Bowling Green in last year’s Humanitarian Bowl, or the fact it manages to practice around single-engine Cessnas and Piper Cubs. “That said, I was taken back by how well they played against us in the first half.”

So was I, although I was more taken back by UNLV’s second dreadful fake-kick call in as many weeks. This one was a thinly disguised counterfeit punt that led to a Vandals touchdown. It sort of recalled that DirecTV commercial, where the laconic Patriots fan living with his grandmother shovels snow against the door of the Dolphins’ fan living next door.


Yeah, I know. Had it worked, I’d be calling Hauck the new Master of Trickeration, or something like that. Boxing promoter Bob Arum, it goes without saying, can rest easily for the moment.

So with one supposed victory opportunity squandered, the Rebels amazingly find themselves with another one this week, against a New Mexico team even more forlorn than they. Thank Bill Walsh and the football gods for that. Because unlike the first two games, there’s really not that much on which to hang an optimistic UNLV viewpoint.

In the season opener against a Wisconsin team The Associated Press predicts will play in the national championship game, UNLV trailed only 17-14 at halftime, proving one should never underestimate the power of smoke and mirrors and 82-yard fumble returns.

Against another nationally ranked opponent the following week, the Rebels moved the ball up and down the field at Utah before developing an allergic reaction to something the devious Utes equipment managers must have sprinkled inside the 20-yard lines.

Against Idaho, the Rebels threw snow against the Vandals’ door and hoped it would stick.

Hauck mentioned UNLV limiting Idaho to 56 yards and two field goals in the second half. But by then, the Vandals had taken their foot off the gas, if not their starters out of the game.

No, this week if you’re a UNLV fan looking for a peaceful, easy feeling, you can download the Eagles song from iTunes for $1.29.

Or you could consider what Idaho has accomplished in their own private world over the past three years.

Since moving up to Division I-A in 1996, the Vandals have enjoyed only four winning seasons. It took two former UNLV assistants — (that) Tom Cable and Nick Holt — to coach the program up there into oblivion, which is one more than it usually takes.

When Dennis Erickson left Idaho holding a 4-8 bag after skipping out on his five-year deal after only one season (nice guy, that Erickson), the Vandals went 1-11 under Robb Akey in 2007. The next year, they were 2-10.

Then last year, finally there was light, instead of Amtrak’s Empire Builder, at the end of the tunnel: Eight wins, five losses and a successful 2-point conversion with four seconds to play against Bowling Green, on a blue carpet.

But remember, it took three years. Roman Gabriel wasn’t built in a day.

The parking lot at Sam Boyd Stadium still isn’t paved and some people — a lot of people — expect Bobby Hauck to build aqueducts with quarterbacks playing safety and freshmen playing mostly everywhere else.

But yes, I still think the Idaho game should have been a lot more competitive. And so does he.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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