UNLV was able to throw for 397 yards and rack up 499 yards of total offense. Ordinarily those numbers would earn a team an A. The problem for the Rebels on Saturday night was that far too much of the damage was done in the second half. UNLV did get 200 yards in the first half, but that only translated to five points. Blake Decker and the Rebels finished drives in the second half, particularly the third quarter, and no doubt would have earned an even better grade for the final 30 minutes.
The grade could have also been bumped up if not for an unfortunate turnover late in the game on a first-and-goal play. UNLV appeared ready to tie the game, but Decker’s jump ball to Devante Davis was knocked away and intercepted. Northern Illinois was able to put the game away from there. Davis was sensational with six catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Decker was 24 of 42 and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence took advantage of his surprisingly heavy workload as he ran for 60 yards and two scores
Yikes. Northern Illinois was able to pass for 285 yards, which would be a very respectable number for the UNLV defense if the Huskies hadn’t also run for 331. Northern Illinois put together long touchdown drives seemingly at will throughout much of the first half. The Rebels defense offered a bit more resistance in the second half, but the Huskies were able to score a long touchdown to take the lead after UNLV tied the game and then a clock-consuming drive capped by a touchdown to cement the final result.
The biggest problem for UNLV was clearly on third downs. Northern Illinois was able to convert 15 of 19 third downs. That’s a completely unacceptable number.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
There were good moments like a 38-yard kickoff return by Keith Whitely to open the game. Then, there was the greatness of punter Logan Yunker. He pinned Northern Illinois inside its own 1-yard line in the first quarter to set up a safety and pinned the Huskies inside the 10 a short time later. He averaged 48.2 yards on four punts in the game. Unfortunately, his A+ performance was overshadowed by a few blunders. After UNLV had tied the game in the fourth quarter, Nicolai Bornand kicked the ball out of bounds to set Northern Illinois up with great field position on what proved to be the game-winning drive. Jonathan Leiva also missed a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter.
As with the other categories, UNLV played very well for most of the second half and left few areas for criticism. The performance as a whole was very disjointed, however. The Rebels defense came out on its heels against the uptempo spread offense of Northern Illinois. UNLV defended the read-option at times like it had never seen it on tape before. There were also the third downs. If the coaching staffs were playing a guessing game as to what the other side was going to do when the Huskies offense faced third down, those in the Northern Illinois booth certainly appeared to be winning. Also, there was the somewhat confusing decision by Bobby Hauck to not go for a 2-point conversion when UNLV scored after trailing 31-12 late in the third quarter. The book undoubtedly says to go for two and cut the lead to 11 in that case, but some coaches don’t even consider that until the fourth quarter. Eventually, UNLV fought back and tied the game so it’s tough to be too critical.