Rebels hope to end road losing streak in Thursday’s season-opener at Minnesota

Posted: August 27, 2013 in NCAAF
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Running back Tim Cornett, coach Bobby Hauck and linebacker Tim Hasson share a laugh with the media at the coach’s weekly press conference. The Rebels hope to end a 22-game road losing streak Thursday at Minnesota.

By W.G. Ramirez

October 24, 2009 is turning out to be quite a day in UNLV history.

That was the last time the football Rebels won a game while toting a travel bag.

Heading into Thursday night’s game in Minneapolis, where coach Bobby Hauck will attempt to win his first road game since arriving on campus, it’ll be 3 years, 10 months and 5 days. That’s 1,405 days to be exact.

More pertinent: it’s a 22-game road losing streak – 20 of which have come under Hauck’s watch.

“For a team like us that hasn’t won a bunch of games the last couple years, we feel like we’re (going) uphill a little bit these first two weeks playing a Big 10 team and a Pac 12 team,” said Hauck, at his first press conference of the season. “We’re gonna go out and give a great effort and we’ll try to steal a win in Minneapolis on Thursday night.”

It may not sound like a ringing endorsement for the season-opener at the University of Minnesota – not to mention the home opener in Week 2 against Arizona – but I’ll hand it to the fourth-year coach, he’s a likable guy who certainly believes in the product he’s putting on the football field.

“We’re certainly ready to get the season started,” said Hauck, who is 6-32 as coach of the Rebels. “I really like our football team, I like the work we’ve done and now we get to go put it on the field Thursday night at a Big Ten team.”

It’s a Big Ten team that visited Sam Boyd Stadium last season, and almost got sent back to the Twin Cities with an L, rather than a triple-overtime W. The Golden Gophers escaped with a 30-27 win in triple overtime, and now the Rebels are hoping to return the favor at Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.

“It did leave a nasty taste in everybody’s mouth, but then again, the older guys always trying to stress last year is irrelevant now,” senior linebacker Tim Hasson said. “This year it’s a whole different team, and we can’t keep basing this game on how we played them last year. We’ve gotta come ready to play this year and look to get a win this time.”

Said Hauck: “Certainly when you lose a game in the last seconds or in overtime or in triple overtime in this case, you feel like there are maybe there are some plays that could happen that could get you over the hump. We have not played well on the road, we have not won on the road and we need to flip that switch at some point in time. Whether it’s this Thursday night or not, we’re gonna go see.”

Hauck has continued to praise the progress of his Rebels, who return 19 starters from last season’s 2-11 squad, and said Monday he’s pleased with the preparation his troops have put in for this game.

“I want us to go out and look like a united, well-drilled football team that’s out there to try to win a football game and not guys that are feeling their way,” Hauck said. “We just want to be a competitive, detailed football team that goes out and plays a good game. And if we do that we can look ourselves in the mirror, whether we win or lose, we can feel good about where we’re heading.

“I think our guys are well aware of the fact that we had three or four games where we were ahead in the fourth quarter last year and we didn’t finish the job and if we can get ourselves into that situation at different times during the season then we’ve gotta come out with the win.”

Hasson echoed his coach’s thoughts, saying he and his teammates are anxious to get the season underway so they can wash that taste out of their mouths.

“(We were) real disappointed with the results we had last season,” said Hasson, who ranked second on the team with 76 tackles last season. “We expected us to do a lot better than that, so we just try to talk as a team ‘let’s start from the first game, let’s not get behind like we did last year and try to fight out of it, let’s get things going from the first game’ and we all feel very confident and we’re all ready to go.”

CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH – Hauck was pleased to announce his Rebels will head to Minneapolis injury-free.

“It’s kind of exciting,” he said. “You’d like to say that’s by design, how we practice, how we’ve prepared and how we were able to do it. Some of it’s probably just plain luck. I’d like to give credit to our smarts, but it’s probably luck in some regards. But we’re a healthy football team.”

Hauck said because of the fact he and his coaches put the Rebels through an intense camp in the Spring, he’s been able to limit his players to bumps and bruises during fall training camp

“Part of that is our first two groups are guys that have actually played college football games before, so we were able to back it off in terms of live work.”

One person he should be happy will be back at 100 percent is senior running back Tim Cornett, who is on pace to become the school’s all-time leading rusher. Cornett injured his shoulder in last year’s season-opener against the Golden Gophers, and continued playing hurt throughout the season.

“I’ve been 100 percent for a while now,” Cornett said. “I’ve been falling on it, I’ve been tackled on it, I’ve been pushed on it, I’ve pass protected on it, I’ve done everything I would do in a game so…”

The 6-foot, 210-pound back enters his final campaign as the leading-active FBS rusher with 11 career 100-yard rushing games. Last season he topped the century mark eight times. He’s exactly 700 yards away from becoming the all-time career rushing leader in UNLV history.

Cornett was one of 35 players named to the inaugural official watch list for the new Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. The award was launched this season to honor the nation’s top college football offensive player who was either born in Texas, graduated from a Texas high school or plays at a college located in the Lone Star State.

“Tim’s kind of worked his way into that conversation, it doesn’t just happen,” Hauck said. “Our expectation is that sometime, I would hope before November, Tim is the career leading rusher in UNLV history. It’s a physical position, things happen, but that’s our hope for him. … He’s a guy who has worked hard. And I think watching practice as recently as (Sunday) night’s practice, I think his vision has improved. He sees things better than he did as a freshman and a sophomore and if he stays healthy it should be a productive year for him.”

Last year Cornett rushed for 127 yards on 25 carries and had two touchdowns against Minnesota.

OFFENSE WITH A SHERRY ON TOP – Sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry is expected to start at Minnesota, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, will become the second Rebel signal caller to start back-to-back season openers in the past decade. Omar Clayton was the only other UNLV player to do it, when he opened the 2008 and 2009 campaigns in charge of the Rebels’ offense.

Last year against Minnesota, Sherry became just the third freshman quarterback in school history to start a season-opening game under center. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound gunslinger completed 16 of 35 pass attempts for 116 yards and a touchdown. He also threw three interceptions in his debut with the Rebels.

Nonetheless, Sherry’s 2,544 passing yards last season ranked as the fourth most in Mountain West Conference history by a freshman, and seventh overall in a UNLV single season.

THE GOLDEN GOPHERS – Minnesota comes into the season after a 6-7 campaign last year, which culminated with a loss to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Minnesota, which is 10-3-1 in season-opening games when it played in a bowl game the previous year, hasn’t played a home opener since 2008, when it beat its current coach Jerry Kill and Northern Illinois, 31-27. That was Kill’s first season with the Huskies.

The Gophers are led by sophomore running back Rodrick Williams on offense, and senior tackle Ra’Shede Hageman on defense. Both are on preseason watch lists for national awards.

“I think Minnesota is a good football team, I think it will be a major accomplishment if we’re able to go in there and beat them,” Hauck said. “I think they’ve improved. They went to a bowl game last year, we didn’t. They are moving forward, and I think they’re a well-coached outfit.”

Now in his third year at the helm with Minnesota, Kill is looking to continue his success in his third year as head coach of a program. At Southern Illinois, Kill was 1-10 and 4-8 before producing a 10-2 record in 2003. At Northern Illinois, Kill went 6-7 and 7-6 before leading the Huskies to a 10-3 mark in 2010. In his first two season at Minnesota, Kill has led the Gophers to records of 3-9 and 6-6.

GAME NOTES – Minnesota is 1-0 all-time against UNLV … The Rebels are opening their season against a Big Ten team for the fourth straight season … UNLV has lost three straight season openers, all under Hauck, losing to Wisconsin (41-21 in 2010), at Wisconsin (51-17 in 2011) and last year to Minnesota (30-27, 3 OT) … Prior to 2010, the Rebels had won four consecutive season-openers, but against far inferior opponents (Idaho State, Utah State twice and Sacramento State) … The Rebels are 2-12 all-time vs. current Big Ten teams … UNLV is 14-9-1 when playing non-Saturday games … The last time the Rebels won a non-Saturday game was Nov. 13, 2008, when they knocked off Wyoming, 22-14 in Las Vegas … For entertainment purposes only, the Gophers have been installed as 14-point favorites over UNLV, while the total is 51.5. Last season the Rebels covered as 8.5 home underdogs, while the total went over 52.5 thanks to the game going into triple-overtime … Also for entertainment purposes only, the Rebels are an impressive 6-0 against the spread on Thursdays, but the Gophers have covered four straight non-conference games.

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