LAS VEGAS – Here in Sin City, where it is easier to find a wedding chapel than a McDonald’s, honeymoons are big business.
Alas, what follows a Las Vegas honeymoon is not always pretty. Case in point: Bobby Hauck and the UNLV football program.
Hauck, anointed the latest would-be savior of the long-suffering Rebels when he arrived after the 2009 season, owns a 4-23 record. Barely 15,000 fans turned out last Saturday to watch the Rebels blow a 14-0 halftime lead in a 17-14 loss to a Northern Arizona squad picked to finish seventh in the Big Sky Conference.
“We know,” Hauck says, “we’re hard to love right now.”
The Washington State Cougars know the feeling, having drawn a blank on winning seasons and bowl games since 2003. However, the Cougars are favored by 81/2 points tonight at UNLV, a team that CBS-Sports.com ranks fourth worst in the nation.
Some might view the betting line as a slight to the Cougars because they routed UNLV, 59-7, last year in Pullman.
It must be remembered, however, that CBSSports.com ranks Washington State 86th among the 124 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Also, WSU is 2-26 outside Pullman since 2008 and barely beat projected Big Sky runner-up Eastern Washington at home last week.
Redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday likely will make his second career start for WSU. Regular quarterback Jeff Tuel suffered a knee injury against EWU and saw little practice time this week.
Youth and inexperience is cause for concern at many positions for both the Cougars and Rebels. Redshirt freshman Nick Sherry starts at quarterback for UNLV.
Pass blocking has been shaky on both sides. The Cougars lack a prime-time running back, but UNLV’s Tim Cornett has run for 100-plus yards in four of the past five games.
Sherry lacks Halliday’s arm. Most college quarterbacks do, but Halliday tends to gamble on some throws, and everyone knows that gambling can be risky in Las Vegas.
Halliday has played only one quarter in a much-hyped new offense that has yet to work out all the kinks. UNLV lists just one senior starter on a defense that has yielded fewer points and yards than the Cougars and is far better at stopping rivals on third down (22-for-28).
Both teams are seeking momentum heading into their conference openers next week – UNLV in the Mountain West Conference against visiting Air Force, WSU in the Pacific-12 Conference against visiting Colorado. The Cougars are 5-0 all-time against the Rebels, but WSU coach Mike Leach says history won’t automatically repeat itself.
“They’re playing together a lot better than they have in the past,” Leach said of the Rebels.
Perhaps, but plenty of UNLV fans are calling for Hauck’s dismissal, threatening to stop attending games, or both. Some of the negative comments have been clever.
One message board item on the Las Vegas Sun newspaper’s website read: “I heard a district court judge offered a punishment choice to a convicted felon, 6 months in jail or attend a UNLV football game.
“He chose jail.”
WASHINGTON STATE (1-1) AT UNLV (0-2)
6 p.m., Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
TV: ESPN. Radio: 770-AM, 96.9-FM, 104.3-FM.
The series: WSU leads, 5-0. The Cougars won, 59-7, last year in Pullman.
What to watch: The young Rebels, ranked 121st out of 124 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision by CBSSports.com, appear primed to serve as a rare road victim for the 86th-ranked Cougars. WSU senior quarterback Jeff Tuel has been limited in practice this week after banging up a knee against Eastern Washington, so Connor Halliday likely will make his second college start. The Rebels have played solid defense in last-minute losses on field goals to Minnesota (in triple overtime) and Northern Arizona. “UNLV is very balanced offensively … very conservative,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “A big, physical offensive line. A talented running back (Tim Cornett). A quarterback (Nick Sherry) that manages the game very well.” Look for the Cougars to regularly blitz Sherry, a redshirt freshman. WSU offensive guard-tackle Dan Spitz may be limited or absent after missing practices due to classroom issues.
THE pick: Washington State 34, UNLV 20.
12Connor Halliday (QB)6-4/189sophomore
Confident, rocket-armed Spokane native passed for 494 yards against Arizona State last year.
86Isiah Myers (WR)6-0/176 sophomore
Leads team with 11 catches, two touchdown catches, 108 receiving yards (tied).
89Travis Long (OLB-DE)6-4/245 senior
Leads team with 21/2 tackles for loss and 2 quarterback sacks.
20Deone Bucannon (SS)6-1/192 junior
Pac-12 suspended team tackles leader (19) for first half for dangerous hit last week.
3Nick Sherry (QB)6-5/235 freshman
Has completed 50 percent of his passes for 355 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions.
35Tim Cornett (RB)6-0/210 junior
Has rushed for team highs of 278 yards and 3 touchdowns.
42Peni Vea (FS)6-1/200 freshman
Leads team with 18 tackles.
55John Lotulelei (WLB)6-0/235 senior
Has 17 tackles; UNLV’s only senior starter on defense.Howie Stalwick, contributing writer