UNLV kicked off the 2012 season Thursday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, and for the third year in a row faced a team from the Big Ten Conference. While 2010 and 2011’s openers against Wisconsin did not go well for the Scarlet and Gray, the Rebels had like their chances against the University of Minnesota this season. Minnesota finished 3-9 last season, and was 110th in total offense (the Gophers scored only 221 points all year) and 77th in total defense.
Early on, things looked encouraging for the Rebels. Minnesota was fairly efficient on their first drive, with Donnell Kirkwood rushing for 27 yards, but a tipped ball was intercepted by Tim Hasson at the UNLV 12 and was returned to the Gophers 44. Nick Sherry completed his first pass as a starter on a 3 yard completion to Barnhill before the Rebels gave the ball to Cornett three plays in a row.
The drive stalled at the 22 and Nolan Kohorst converted a 39 yard field goal, giving UNLV a 3-0 lead. It would be their only score in the first half. The Rebels did force the Gophers to go 3 and out the next drive, and it appeared that they could capitalize, but any momentum they built up quickly dissipated when Sherry threw the first of his three interceptions. Coach Hauk and new Offensive Coordinator Brent Myers, to their credit, allowed their first-time starter to keep throwing the ball, but the O-Line, a supposed position of strength for this squad, struggled to protect in the passing game.
Minnesota went up7-3 on a 16 yard rush by Gillum, following a nice 39 yard reception by A.J. Barker (who had an unbelievable 3 receptions for 101 yards) and had a chance to tack on another three before the half, but kicker Jordan Wettstein’s 32 yard attempt sailed wide with under a minute to go.
UNLV and Minnesota came out flat in the third quarter. The home team failed to get a first down on their next two possessions and the Gophers didn’t look much better. It looked like the Rebels were going nowhere once again, but a botched punt return by Minnesota’s Troy Stoudermire gave Las Vegas the ball at the visitor’s 33. A pass interference call on the next play moved the ball even deeper in Gopher territory, and six plays later, Cornett scored from the 1.
In the fourth, Minnesota tied the game on a 32 yard kick after MarQueis Gray hooked up with A.J. Barker for 40 yards, Sherry threw and INT in UNLV territory on the next series, and Minnesota took the lead on a 21 yard field goal. On the Rebel’s final drive (not counting when they got the ball with 0:31 left on the clock) Cornett ran for 42 yards in three plays, but UNLV could do no better than a 35 yard field goal.
The Rebels got the ball first and looked like they might close the game out when Tim Cornett ran for 25 yards in three plays and scored from 18 yards out. However, on Minnesota’s first play, a late hit on MarQueis Gray gave the Golden Gophers 1st and goal at the 10. John Rabe caught a 10 yard TD pass two plays later, sending the game to double OT.
This time it only took one play for the visitors to find the end zone, as Gray again found Rabe, this time for 25 yards. Following Minnesota personal foul, the Rebels found themselves with a first down on the 11 yard line, but failed to advance past the 5 over the next three plays. With the game on the line, Sherry stepped back and found sophomore WR Devante Davis for a touchdown.
It once again seemed like UNLV had the upper hand, after Bradley Randle ran to the Gopher 11 on the first play of triple overtime. However, Sherry threw a bad interception off his back foot on the second play and four plays later, Jordan Wettstein kicked a 32 yarder for the Minnesota win.
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS:
New starting quarterback Nick Sherry looked good at times, and showed composure in the pocket in the face of seemingly unending pass rush. He did, however, throw 3 interceptions, including the one which essentially ended the game and finished with a rather dismal 116 yards passing and a 45.7% completion rate, so it remains to be seen if UNLV can crack the top 100 in total offense this season.
The O-line had a tough time pass blocking, but looked much better in the ground game, consistently getting off the line of scrimmage and opening holes for Cornett and Randle. Cornett averaged over 5 yards per carry on his way to 127 yards rushing and had a fantastic 18 yard dash into the end zone in the first OT.
On at least five different occasions MarQueis Gray badly overthrew open receivers and if not for the Minnesota QB’s inaccuracy, this game could have gotten away from the Rebels by half time.
Reaction has been mixed on the Rebels new uniforms (I personally think they look good).