Rebels desperate for win to keep bowl hopes alive

SAN JOSE, Calif. — UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said he rarely discusses the big picture with his team, that the emphasis is on the opponent for that particular week.

That’s the tack just about every football coach takes because each game requires tremendous focus, and distractions are never good news.

Besides, Hauck didn’t need to say anything to his players this week. They know the situation, and it’s not good.

They also know if they hold out any hope of making a bowl for the second consecutive season, they better win at San Jose State today when the teams meet at 5 p.m. at Spartan Stadium. ESPNews will televise the game.

“I believe our team hasn’t shown how good we are,” UNLV defensive tackle Mike Hughes Jr. said. “We shoot ourselves in the foot a lot. We can still pull out a lot of ‘W’s’ and get to a bowl game.’ ”

Here’s why tonight’s game means something for the Rebels.

At 1-4, including 0-1 in the Mountain West, another loss means they have to win six of their final seven games to make the postseason. That’s close to impossible with trips remaining to Utah State (3-2, 0-0 MW) and 18th-ranked Brigham Young (4-1) and a home date with UNR (3-1, 1-0).

But a victory today would provide some hope. It would make UNLV 2-4 with a home game with Fresno State coming up before taking off a week. The Bulldogs (3-3, 2-0) aren’t close to the team that won the conference title last season, so the opportunity would be there for the Rebels to get to 3-4 before the break.

Then following the bye, UNLV would need to go 4-2 down the stretch but against some beatable opponents, such as New Mexico (1-3, 0-1) on Nov. 1 and Air Force (3-1, 1-1) on Nov. 8 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Rebels also have a Nov. 22 trip to Hawaii (1-3, 0-0).

It’s a long shot, for sure, to make the postseason, but it’s the only shot the Rebels have after entering the season with so much optimism and failing to play even close to their expectations.

They have played so poorly that even the posted season wins total of four will be difficult to reach because the only remaining game UNLV likely will be the favorite will be against New Mexico.

The Rebels are 10-point underdogs to San Jose State (1-3, 0-1), which also badly needs this victory. Each team will try to end a three-game skid, and the Spartans are similar to UNLV in that this game will determine whether they have anything more than pride left to play for.

“As I told the team, one game or part of the season doesn’t define us,” San Jose State coach Ron Caragher said. “We have to draw back into our inner self of who we are, what we believe, what we’re capable of doing and build on that and not get lost in a record that can be changed.”

As for UNLV, quarterback Blake Decker needs to finally play a clean game. He has been intercepted at least once in every game and has thrown nine picks for the season. His decision-making has been sketchy, but in averaging 245.8 yards passing per game, Decker has shown he can be effective.

He and the offense also need to exploit opportunities in the red zone. UNLV is converting just half its trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns.

And the Rebels need to play better defense, particularly against the run. They allow 546 yards per game, including 295.6 on the ground. San Jose State’s running game averages just 113.2 yards, but leading rusher Jarrod Lawson scorched the Rebels for 187 yards last season.

“We’ve got our hands full with these guys,” Hauck said. “It’s going to take a great effort for us to go and get our first conference win.”

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

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