UNLV’s football team enters Saturday night’s game at New Mexico on a roll.
Okay, maybe back-to-back home victories over Central Michigan minus three of its top players, including its starting quarterback, and Western Illinois of FCS fame wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at most schools. But this is Rebel football we’re talking about here.
Two wins in a season has been the standard for UNLV in a depressing seven of the last nine seasons, including the first three of the Bobby Hauck era. And you have to go all the way back to 2008 for the last the Rebels won consecutive games until last weekend.
Three-in-row? Try 2003 when John Robinson – remember him – was patrolling the sidelines and winning the Fremont Cannon every year.
Which makes Saturday night’s game against the Lobos the most important game of Hauck’s 8-34 Rebel coaching career in my book.
The Rebels (2-2) bring in a 23-game road losing to University Stadium, which will never be confused with Death Valley or Autzen Stadium when it comes to intimidating home field advantages. More like Eddie West Field in Santa Ana, Calif., where famed Mater Dei High School plays its home games.
Then toss in the fact that this is a bad Lobos (1-2) football team — in my opinion worse than the one UNLV beat up on last season, 35-7 — and there’s no excuse for letting the road losing streak linger another day, especially for a head coach in his fourth season at the helm, especially if the program really is making progress.
Mike Sanford, who was chased out of town after back-to-back five-win seasons, led UNLV to a memorable 23-20 overtime upset of then-No. 13 ranked Arizona State in the third week of his fourth season. He followed that up a week later with a 34-31 overtime win over Iowa State.
I don’t want to hear the old New Mexico had a bye last week and two weeks to prepare excuse. I caught their previous game – a 47-29 loss to a solid Pittsburgh team – and it was, to put it kindly, an embarrassment to the Mountain West Conference.
The Panthers actually led that game 42-6 early in the third quarter before calling off the dogs, including 35-6 at halftime. It could have been a whole lot worse too considering Pitt turned the ball over THREE times in the first half. The Panthers, who held the Lobos star running back Kasey Carrier to 22 yards on seven carries, had an enormous 388-to-59 edge in total yards at intermission.
I’d say that’s a pretty fair definition of a butt-kicking, not to mention a bad football team. Mighty Duke came back last week to score 55 points – we’re talking football here, not hoops — on the same Panther defense.
I asked Hauck at his weekly press conference on Monday what Pitt did to shut down the Lobos so easily?
“Oh, I don’t know, they got 29 didn’t they?” he replied.
After I explained the game really wasn’t that close, Hauck said he had only watched “cut-ups” of film from the game.
Okay, fair enough.
But if the Rebels are ever going to win a road game again, this would seem to be the ideal spot. Of course, I thought that last year when they were a small favorite against an equally hapless Hawaii squad and they were down 31-0 at halftime before losing 48-10.
A win Saturday night and the Rebels are half-way to a rare bowl game with winnable home dates against Hawaii, plummeting San Jose State and winless San Diego State still on the agenda. Lose and vultures are sure to begin circling, especially with a new athletic director likely to finally be hired in the next few weeks.
Asked if this was his most important game to date at UNLV, Hauck smiled and replied, “They’re all important. Every week is the most important game. It’s the most important game in the country, it’s the most important game ever. That’s how it is in football.”
Look, I like Hauck, who always greets you with a big smile and firm handshake. The fly-fishing enthusiast from Big Timber, Mont., has tried to build the program the right way by recruiting high school prospects and not going for a quick-fix of junior college transfers.
But by your fourth year you need to start winning road games, especially games you are favored in against bad opponents. Lose to the Lobos and the already miniscule crowds at Sam Boyd Stadium will continue to dwindle. You might as well move the rest of the games to Desert Pines High.
And minus a dramatic turnaround down the stretch that yields an elusive bowl invite, it may very well be time to cut bait with Bobby Hauck.