The UNLV Rebels go up against another top-flight program from the Mountain West Conference this weekend as the team tangles with the 24th-ranked Boise State Broncos on the blue turf in Idaho.
Last weekend, the Rebels appeared to be well on their way to taking out in- state rival Nevada at home, opening with a 21-0 lead, but the team subsequently squandered that effort and bowed in a 42-37 final. The loss was the third in a row and the sixth in seven tries this year for a UNLV squad that has not won on the road since topping New Mexico, 34-17, back on Oct. 24, 2009, a stretch of 18 straight games which is one of the longest droughts in the country.
As for the Broncos, they ran their win streak to five games in row last weekend as they slipped by Fresno State in a 20-10 final at home. While the victory was by double digits, it by no way compared with the 57-7 thrashing Boise State presented the Bulldogs with a year ago. Nevertheless, the Broncos have done what's necessary in order to remain in the national rankings and keep future opponents on their toes.
Checking in at No. 22 in the initial BCS standings for 2012, the Broncos have now appeared in the standings for the 38th straight week, the longest active stretch in the nation and the eighth-longest in the history of the poll. The other good news for Boise State is that the team has not lost during the month of October since the 2001 campaign, a run of 46 consecutive games.
Boise State, which is 88-6 in conference games since the beginning of 2000 and has a remarkable 77-3 mark at home since that time, topped the Rebels last season in a 48-21 decision, giving BSU a 4-3 edge in the all-time series.
"I feel sick for our kids, especially our seniors, and our fans too," said UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck after his team coughed up a potential win against Nevada. "We had a good plan today and we came out and didn't execute well enough in the second half. We came close but no cigar. I think we have closed the gap on them, but obviously not enough to get the win. Obviously bitterly disappointed."
Coach Hauck saw his team go from a commanding first-half lead to bowing to the Wolf Pack for the eighth straight time and that was with Nevada playing with a backup quarterback.
Nick Sherry tried to keep the hosts in the mix as he converted 21-of-35 passes for 243 yards and a score, while Tim Cornett chipped in 129 yards and another trip to the end zone, but it simply wasn't meant to be as the UNLV defense permitted 329 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and another 167 yards and two TDs through the air.
Cornett, who has run for at least 100 yards five times this season, now needs just 36 more yards to reach 2,000 for his career, but as the fourth-ranked running back in the MWC with 106.7 ypg, he still needs Sherry to perform at a high level in order to have a chance at finding holes along the line of scrimmage.
Sherry, one of a multitude of signal-callers to fill the position the last several years in Sin City, has had his moments with 253.0 ypg, leading to 11 touchdowns, but he has also been picked off eight times and those turnovers have put the UNLV defense on the hot seat.
After seven games the Rebels have permitted 478.7 ypg (ranking 109th in the country) and allowed at least 30 points to all but one opponent.
A year ago at this time the Broncos were seventh in the country in scoring with 44.3 ppg and finished out the year with 44.2 ppg which was good for fifth, but that was with Kellen Moore at quarterback and a host of experienced players throughout the offense and now the team is having to adjust to life after being on top.
Now averaging just 25.2 ppg to rank eighth in the conference and 80th in the nation, Joe Southwick played well enough to guide the Broncos to yet another victory last week as he converted 11-of-22 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, but was also sacked once and had a pass picked off. D.J. Harper helped save the day as he ran for a game-high 122 yards and a touchdown.
More importantly, the defense came ready to play for BSU versus the Bulldogs, holding a fourth-straight opponent scoreless in the first half. In fact, the unit has been so dominant this season that a total of just 19 points have been given up in the first half over the course of six games.
"I think it starts with our defense - those guys are playing extremely hard," Boise State head coach Chris Petersen of his team after the game. "Holding Fresno (State) to 10 points is really impressive. I thought our offense did what we needed to do. I can't seem to predict any of these games, how they're going to go, but if I was, I thought it would go a little bit like that - tough sledding."
Of the team's three sacks, Demarcus Lawrence accounted for two so now the Broncos rank second in the league and 38th in the country with 2.3 sacks per game.
Outside of the 29 points allowed to a surprising New Mexico squad last month, the defense has again been the hallmark for the Broncos by limiting opponents to just 14.7 ppg (12th nationally). The squad is forcing turnovers at better than three per game and as long as the offense is able to minimize mistakes the turnover margin will continue to favor the Broncos no matter how Southwick performs.