For UNLV Rebels fans watching Saturday's game against Northern Illinois, there were some surprises to be had. First off, UNLV scored the first touchdown. Second, UNLV led the game going into the second quarter and second half! ‘Where did this come from', you asked yourselves as the faint hope you had for a winning season started to come into full view. Then, reality struck.
As most anticipated and Huskies fans predicted the entire time, Northern Illinois fought back play-by-play in the second half, and at one point in the third quarter, made it look like it might be a runaway win. But alas, another surprise: UNLV kept fighting right back against them. What appeared to be a close game by the second half remained a close game until the bitter end (at least for UNLV's faithful).
The Huskies football players obviously were ever so gently reminded at half time that they did not want to be one of the predicted "two wins" of UNLV's football season. So, they did what they were expected to do all along and won (but not in the fashion that most analysts, including writers from our site, expected).
There were bright spots to take away from UNLV's loss in Saturday's game against the Huskies, and some of those were recently highlighted here. Who would have ever thought that UNLV's defense could be credited with successfully completing a 4th down stand (twice)! Who would have thought that their back-up quarterback would come in and score a touchdown? Or that their wide receivers appeared to be a crop of seasoned professionals ready to pounce on any catch coming their way? For the Rebel faithful, the game was a clear indication that hope for the program does exist in the desert of Las Vegas under Coach Tony Sanchez.
Or, was it more of the same?
Let us not forget that so many of the last few years of UNLV football has been based on the "almost" wins. You know which ones that I'm talking about; those games where it came down to fourth quarter 4th down stands, making completed passes when absolutely necessary, or running the football just a few more inches to earn the next down.
UNLV's starting QB, Blake Decker, showed visible signs of improvement Saturday but also clearly portrayed the ability to overthrow his targets in multiple instances. Outside of this deficiency in this first match up, UNLV's wide receiver core might be excellent, but outside of running back Keith Whitely, the program lacks interior running presence.
As much as UNLV fans were enthused in the first half of the game, that unsettling, familiar feeling crept into their guts watching the second half. The Huskies had made just enough of a dent in the Rebel lead going into halftime that most UNLV fans understood that the second half would be nail biting if not altogether disastrous.
But there were some differences that stood out that UNLV can take away to next week into what will be an undoubtedly frustrating game against the UCLA Bruins. More than anything else that happened in between those 100 yards, there were smiles coming from the UNLV sideline. You could see that the players were actually motivated and excited to be a part of this new phase in UNLV's football history. Yes, those smiles quickly faded after dropped passes or defensive misses, but there was an aura of enthusiasm that has not existed for the Rebel football program so palpably in several years.
Now, let's see if that enthusiasm on the sidelines can translate into victories on the field.