UNLV blown out by Southern Utah, 41-16
Thunderbirds send Rebels into bye week stumbling after dominant second half performance
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Published Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 | 9:12 p.m.
|UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring is sacked by Southern Utah University lineman Cody Larsen during their game Saturday, September 24, 2011. Photo by Sam Morris|
Final, Southern Utah wins 41-16
Caleb Herring threw three interceptions that were all returned for touchdowns, and that was just the tip of the iceberg on a night when UNLV couldn't get out of its own way.
The inability to turn things around after a lackluster first half led to UNLV being pounded on its home turf by a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. Southern Utah walked out of Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday night as 41-16 winners.
Herring, who committed only one turnover in his first three career starts, was 23-of-41 for 223 yards and the three picks.
UNLV committed five turnovers on the night, and after holding Southern Utah to just 76 yards of total offense in the first half, the Rebels defense was dissected in the final 30 minutes by SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen.
The Rebels (1-3) took two major steps backwards after securing a stunning 40-20 upset of Hawaii a week ago, and now will have two weeks to think about it before traveling to face rival Nevada-Reno (1-2) on Oct. 8.
For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
End of Third Quarter, Southern Utah leads 24-10
Now it's getting real for UNLV.
The first play of the third quarter saw Caleb Herring get picked off by Southern Utah's Blake Fenn, who scored from 22 yards out, and the Rebels have been under the gun ever since.
They let go of an opportunity to erase a forgettable first half with an even more forgettable second half, and the confidence all appears to belong to the visitors right now.
After going 7-of-21 in the first half, Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen regrouped to go 8-of-10 for 113 yards in the third quarter. He led a late touchdown drive that was capped by an Austin Minefee six-yard run, and the Rebels fans still at Sam Boyd Stadium are now letting their boos be heard.
For UNLV, unless things change drastically in the final 15 minutes, all of the buzz that last week's upset of Hawaii created will be killed off among the fans who came out tonight to see what all of the commotion was about.
Halftime, game tied 10-10
On offense tonight, UNLV is doing one thing consistently: Committing costly mistakes.
After Phillip Payne's untimely penalty in the first quarter, he got UNLV into prime field position on a 14-yard pass play early in the second quarter. However, moments later, a personal foul call on freshman receiver Devante Davis pushed the Rebels out of field goal range. On fourth-and-19, UNLV tried its second fake kick of the game, with punter Chase Lansford coming up short on a throw down the left sideline.
It got worse on the Rebels' next possession, when Caleb Herring misfired under pressure on a screen pass. The errant throw was picked off by Southern Utah's Nick Witzmann, who ran it back 35 yards for a go-ahead score.
Nolan Kohorst kicked a 45-yard field goal for UNLV in the closing minute of the half, tying the game at 10-10 and at least helping the Rebels avoid going into the locker room behind.
Still, the first half was far from as clean as anything UNLV did last week in its upset of Hawaii. The Rebels committed five penalties, costing them 65 yards. They were just 3-of-11 on third down plays.
The main positive out of the first half was the defensive performance. The Rebels held SUU to 76 total yards and forced a pair of turnovers.
From the look of things so far, as long as UNLV's defense holds tight, things should get cleaned up on the other side of the ball and the Rebels should be able to escape this one with a win.
In terms of numbers, Herring was 12-of-20 for 94 yards and a pick in the first half. He hit Payne five times for 69 yards. Meanwhile, Tim Cornett could be on his way to his second straight 100-yard game, with 55 yards so far on eight carries. As for SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen, his accuracy is nowhere to be found. He's 7-of-21 for 39 yards and two picks.
End of First Quarter, UNLV leads 7-0
UNLV leads Southern Utah 7-0 after one quarter, but it could be much worse for the visiting Thunderbirds.
The Rebels' defense has done its part so far, holding SUU to 44 yards of total offense and picking off quarterback Brad Sorensen twice. However, the UNLV offense is scuffling, to say the least.
The game's lone score to this point came from a fake field goal, when holder Mike Clausen — a former quarterback — pulled up and flipped a 23-yard pass to Austin Harrington.
After another SUU turnover on the ensuing possession, sophomore running back Tim Cornett carried UNLV's offense down to the one-yard line. Then, on first-and-goal, instead of hammering the ball up the middle, Caleb Herring threw a fade route to Phillip Payne, who had one-on-one coverage. But Payne never got close to the ball, as he and an SUU defender began hitting each other in the face right off of the snap. Payne got called for offensive pass interference, and the drive came up empty.
Herring was benched for a series in favor of junior backup Sean Reilly, as Hauck was sending a message.
The whole whole could use a message right about now, as the execution is far from as crisp as it was a week ago.
In two weeks, UNLV has gone from a 59-7 loss at Washington State to being a double-digit favorite over visiting FCS foe Southern Utah.
The Rebels earned a decent amount of respect both locally and nationally after upsetting Hawaii last week in their home opener, 40-20, but if that performance doesn't roll over into another impressive showing against the Thunderbirds tonight at Sam Boyd Stadium, their may not be many more chances the rest of the way to regain this type of momentum.
UNLV (1-2) has a chance to even out its record and match its win total from the entire 2010 season when it kicks off against SUU tonight at 6 p.m. If the Rebels can pull this one off, the rest of the season is their oyster.
After this comes the first of two October bye weeks, then games against the likes of Nevada-Reno, Colorado State, Wyoming and New Mexico the rest of the way — all beatable opponents.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, first.
In order to defeat Southern Utah tonight, here are the three keys for UNLV …
1) Run the ball, run the ball some more and run it again. UNLV is coming off of one of its best rushing performances as a team under Bobby Hauck a week ago against Hawaii. Defending the run is where SUU is more than a bit suspect. The T-birds are allowing 4.6 yards per carry to opponents so far this season, and they have yet to go against an FBS offensive line.
2) No big plays. SUU will air the ball out plenty, and BYU transfer Brad Sorensen is very capable of having a big night in the pocket. They can allow completions, but cannot allow those short pass plays to turn into 20- and 30-yard gains. That's where they succeeded big-time against the Warriors. Well, that, and pressuring Bryant Moniz. They have to do that again, too.
3) No free possessions, either. Caleb Herring doesn't get a ton of credit to this point for limiting his turnovers, but he's only committed one so far in three starts. The importance of doing that some more moving forward doesn't need any further explanation.
As for a prediction tonight, I'm taking UNLV, 35-20. They should be able to overwhelm SUU up front on both sides of the ball, and I'm expecting the T-birds to find a way to score through the air at least a couple of times.
If you want to communicate with me via Twitter throughout the game, find me at @ryanmgreene. Also, don't forget to add the #UNLV and #unlvfb tag to your in-game tweets for your posts to show up below here on the blog.
Talk to you after kick-off!