Many questions as Rebel football moves forward

In his final news conference as UNLV’s football coach, Bobby Hauck could have followed his predecessor’s script and blamed everyone but himself for the Rebels’ shortcomings.

But Hauck, just as he did throughout his five seasons in charge, pointed only at himself rather than the locker room at Lied Athletic Complex, which previous coach Mike Sanford called the nation’s worst.

Hauck, in fact, said following Saturday’s 49-27 loss to UNR at Sam Boyd Stadium that his successor should have a good core of players on which to build.

“I think our football team has a chance to be good next year,” he said. “A lot of guys back at a lot of critical positions, including the quarterback.”

That quarterback, rising senior Blake Decker, showed promise in passing for 2,886 yards and 15 touchdowns. The yardage total is the third highest in Rebels history. But Decker also threw 18 interceptions, also the third highest in school history.

Decker wasn’t helped with the lack of a running attack, though Shaquille Murray-Lawrence ended the season with three 100-yard performances in his final five games. He was a senior, and upcoming junior Keith Whitely will be the top returning back. He has potential, having gained 504 yards, averaging 4.3 per carry.

Even with the loss of Devante Davis, one of the greatest wide receivers in UNLV history, the Rebels should be strong at that position. Devonte Boyd returns for his sophomore year, and he comes off a debut season in which he caught 64 passes for 973 yards and four touchdowns. Another rising sophomore, Kendal Keys, finished with 24 receptions for 310 yards and two TDs.

The offensive line loses two key players in guard/tackle Brett Boyko and center Robert Waterman, but the rest of the starting front returns. No matter who is back, the Rebels need better play from the line, which at best was inconsistent.

But UNLV struggled greatest with its defensive line, though end Siuea Vaesau played well in making 8½ tackles for loss, including a team-best five sacks. He was a senior, however, and the new Rebels coach will have to find a way to upgrade a line that helped give up nearly 300 yards rushing per game.

The linebackers also had a hand in those struggles, though upcoming junior Tau Lotulelei put together a strong season in leading the Rebels with 100 tackles. He also made a team-high 10½ tackles for loss, including three sacks. But the Rebels will need to strengthen that position beyond Lotulelei.

UNLV’s secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but that unit struggled most of the season. Three starters depart, but upcoming senior safety Peni Vea returns. He made 88 tackles, including 7½ for loss and 3½ sacks.

The Rebels were erratic on special teams, but kicker Jonathan Leiva and punter Logan Yunker will be seniors next season. Rising junior Nicolai Bornand has the strongest leg, however, and he could be UNLV’s kicker.

SANCHEZ, MORE MONEY MAY COME

With a new coach, be it Bishop Gorman High School’s Tony Sanchez or someone else, the lineup figures to undergo an overhaul. When a team wins two games for the eighth time in 11 years, major changes need to be made.

If Sanchez is hired, he figures to have Fertitta money come with him, perhaps as much as $30 million if the chatter is to be believed, so a lot could be changing with the program.

Athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy and university president Don Snyder talked the previous two days about the importance of changing the program itself and not just the coach. Those comments point to Sanchez because no other potential candidate comes with such financial support.

No matter who is in charge, how­ever, Davis said the new coach has a good model to follow in Hauck.

“Coach Hauck and his staff did a great job recruiting good players,” Davis said. “With a different coach next year, you’ll be seeing the guys that they recruited, the guys that are here, are good players. You’ve got young freshmen and sophomores who blossomed this year who are coming back, so continue to do what we’re doing and continue that play-hard mentality and fight to the finish for 60 minutes. If that changes, it’ll be pretty bad.”

HAUCK STAYS OPTIMISTIC

As for Hauck, he heads out the door wishing UNLV the best.

“I’ve had an awesome experience here, and the people I’ve worked with on campus have been terrific,” he said. “People in Las Vegas have been awfully good to me and my family, I mean absolutely terrific. A lot of people believe in what we’re doing.

“We’re proud of the fact there have been four winning seasons here in 30 years and we got one of them. There have been four bowl games in school history; we got one. When I say we, I mean (the players). We just couldn’t put two (winning seasons) in a row together. It will be somebody else’s opportunity to try to do that.”

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

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