UNLV offense hopes to rediscover early-season form

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Considering UNLV is on the verge of making offensive history, it’s difficult to say that side of the football has struggled.

It hasn’t.

It just hasn’t been as good in the past four games as it was in the prior four.

So if the Rebels are asked to win a shootout in today’s 6:30 p.m. PST game at Air Force, they will need to return to their production from earlier in the season.

UNLV strung together four 30-point games in a row from Sept. 14 against Central Michigan to Oct. 12 against Hawaii and went 4-0. The Rebels since then have scored 14, 27, 24 and 24 points, and it’s little coincidence three of those games ended in losses.

During the Rebels’ four-game run of 30-point outings, they converted 15 of 21 trips to the red zone into touchdowns. The numbers dropped to 10-for-16 the past four games.

“We’re moving the ball,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “Our yardage totals are pretty good. Probably need to be a little better on third down (38 percent). Moving the ball between the 20s has been pretty good. We need to finish in the end zone a little better. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching them in the red zone.”

UNLV (5-5, 3-3 Mountain West), one victory from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2000, could have opportunities to reach the end zone against the Falcons (2-8, 0-6), who allow 38.1 points per game.

The Falcons have struggled to defend the run and the pass, giving up 244.3 yards rushing per game and 234.0 passing. Breaking it down even further, opponents have averaged 5.0 yards per carry and rushed for 30 touchdowns, and opposing quarterbacks have completed 71.5 percent of their passes for 23 TDs with just four interceptions.

But weather.com forecasts temperatures in the teens tonight with a 70 percent chance of snow, so the Rebels probably will contend with highly unfavorable and unfamiliar elements.

That could make taking advantage of their opportunities even more critical for the Rebels, who average 421.4 yards per game, their highest mark since setting the school record with 491.3 in 1981.

“It boils down to our consistency on offense as a group,” quarterback Caleb Herring said. “Looking back at games, there are things we do that kind of hurt ourselves from an execution standpoint. You’ve got to give the other teams some credit. We played good teams. They’ve given us some things that were a little problematic for us. The thing we have to do is continue to keep coming back and prepare and make the improvements week in and week out.”

UNLV, as shown during that earlier stretch, has the talent to snap out of its downturn.

The Rebels even are on the brink of doing something never accomplished in school history — have a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in the same season. Tim Cornett is 30 yards rushing from the mark, and Devante Davis is 52 yards receiving away.

Should Cornett reach 1,000, he would join Mike Thomas in 1973 and 1974 as the only Rebels to hit that milestone twice. Davis is attempting to become UNLV’s second 1,000-yard receiver since 1994, joining Ryan Wolfe in 2008.

If Cornett and Davis accomplish those feats and UNLV beats Air Force, that would make the night even sweeter for them and their teammates because they could then plan for a 13th game.

UNLV just missed out on its first two attempts to become bowl eligible, and only one shot remains should the Rebels fall short tonight.

But they are in the conversation late into November, and even on a cold night, that’s a warm feeling for the long-struggling program.

“There’s a goal that’s on our goal board that we can still achieve,” Herring said. “That’s kind of where the focus is in our locker room right now.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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