Struggling ground game stops Rebels short of goal line

Problems with the goal-line offense couldn’t be any more visible than when a football team runs its kicker up the middle in a desperate attempt to get into the end zone.

That’s what UNLV did at the end of Saturday’s 38-10 loss at Utah. Kicker Nolan Kohorst was dropped for a 1-yard loss on a fake field-goal attempt.

Afterward, a clearly frustrated coach Bobby Hauck acknowledged, "Nothing else worked."

While that play underscored their problems near the goal line, the Rebels (0-2) have additional offensive concerns as they get ready for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game at Idaho (1-1).

UNLV still is working to develop an effective running game, which has created added reliance on its still-developing passing attack.

The result has been a unit that has scored two offensive touchdowns in as many games. UNLV’s offense was kept out of the end zone completely by the Utes.

Hauck has taken responsibility for the goal-line problems, but regardless of who’s most to blame, there’s no doubt the Rebels must start taking better advantage of chances.

They advanced to Utah’s 2- and 1-yard lines in the fourth quarter, but failed to score. The second ended with that call to Kohorst.

Offensive tackle Matt Murphy said Xs and Os aren’t standing between the Rebels and the goal line, but a more determined effort is needed once the team gets that close.

"We need to be more physical," Murphy said. "We need to have a better mindset down there knowing that we’re going to score instead of, ‘I hope they don’t run this blitz so we don’t score.’ "

The lack of a running game is especially pronounced in short-yardage situations. UNLV has used four running backs, but none has stood out enough to grab the job, though freshman Tim Cornett has shown promise with 43 yards on six carries.

The other backs are averaging less than 4 yards per carry, with C.J. Cox (56 yards, 21 attempts) at 2.7.

The most telling evidence of the running game’s ineffectiveness is that quarterback Omar Clayton has been the Rebels’ most effective ball carrier. He leads them with 87 yards on 19 carries (4.6 average).

In the Rebels’ defense, however, they faced top-notch run defenses in Wisconsin and Utah. Those teams will make a lot of running games look pedestrian.

"I think we’ve got to keep at it," tailback Channing Trotter said. "We can’t give up on the running game. As long as we keep pushing it in practice and keep running hard, I think we should be really successful."

Maybe facing Idaho, which has allowed 508 yards rushing through two games, will help. A better run game also would aid efforts through the air.

Clayton won the quarterback job after completing 18 of 37 passes for 217 yards against the Utes, but needs consistency. He is completing 45.3 percent of his passes after entering the season as a 60-percent thrower.

Uncertainty at quarterback — Mike Clausen, moved to safety this week, started the season opener — and a new more run-based offense probably played roles. The Rebels also are discovering how much they miss Ryan Wolfe, the leading receiver in school history.

Phillip Payne was supposed to be the new go-to receiver, but has eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. More defensive attention on Payne has resulted in fewer passes sent in his direction.

Against Utah, Clayton wound up going mostly to wide receiver Michael Johnson, who leads the Rebels with nine receptions for 103 yards. No one else has emerged to complement Payne or Johnson.

With Clausen practicing on the other side of the ball, Clayton at least knows this is his offense.

He also knows UNLV needs to start scoring more touchdowns beginning this weekend. Hauck compared Vandals quarterback Nathan Enderle to two former Idaho players who also played in the NFL, so Clayton and his offensive teammates need to try to match their output in what could be a high-scoring game.

Hauck called Enderle "a pro prospect," adding "he’s probably the best quarterback there since John Friesz and Doug Nussmeier."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914.

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