Saturday’s Homecoming game between Fresno State and UNLV at Bulldog Stadium (7 p.m.) has implications that few expected between the Bulldogs and the Rebels, who entered this year after consecutive two-win seasons.
That’s not the case – UNLV is on a four-game win streak and tied with Fresno State for first place in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference.
The Rebels’ turnaround this season has been reflected in the win column – they are two wins away from reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2000.
They, however, face their first true test of the season in No. 17 Fresno State and its up-tempo offense, said Danny Webster, sports editor and football beat writer for The Rebel Yell, UNLV’s student newspaper.
The Bulldogs have averaged 47.4 points per game and are ranked fifth in the nation in scoring offense.
Here’s more of what Webster shared in an interview with The Collegian.
THE COLLEGIAN: UNLV started off the season 0-2. Now, the Rebels are on a four-game win streak and tied for first in the West Division. Has this seemed like a tale of two seasons for the Rebels so far at the year’s halfway point? What’s prompted the Rebels’ sudden spark in the win column?
THE REBEL YELL: It’s been a tale of two seasons because UNLV is doing something they haven’t done in three years — win games that they’re supposed to win.
Last year was a clear case of that. UNLV had a very good chance to win six or seven games in 2012, but a good number of those losses were decided by eight points or less.
Things have changed tremendously since Caleb Herring became the starting quarterback, and he’s played great the last four games after relieving Nick Sherry of his duties in the first quarter of the Central Michigan game.
Since then, Devante Davis has become a top wide receiver; Tim Cornett has been running the ball effectively; and when you add the addition of Marcus Sullivan, it gives the Rebels playmakers that you have to game plan for.
For the past few seasons, it’s seemed UNLV has had inconsistency at quarterback — even this spring where there was competition for the starting spot between Nick Sherry and Caleb Herring (which Sherry won). What did Herring do this season and offseason to earn the start behind center for the Rebels (Herring has guided the Rebels to four straight wins)?
Herring had all the reasons to leave. He switched to wide receiver after a terrible sophomore season in 2011, and Sherry became the poster child after throwing for over 2,500 yards in his redshirt-freshman season.
But Bobby Hauck went a different direction at offensive coordinator, bringing in Timm Rosenbach from Montana. Rosenbach has implemented a spread/pistol offense that’s more suited toward Herring’s game, in which he can also make plays with his legs.
Sherry was effective in a pro-style offense a year ago and has struggled in the spread because of his lack of mobility. It fits Herring well, and giving him a year to sit on the bench and learn to be a more efficient passer has done wonders for him.
And to follow up on Herring, he’s been a guy who’s played receiver and who’s been inconsistent in the past at quarterback. This year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. How has he handled the adversity he’s faced in his time at UNLV?
He’s handled the adversity as well as you could possibly imagine. He volunteered to switch to wide receiver because he wanted to have some sort of role on the team.
It’s not a great feeling having been the starting quarterback two-thirds into your sophomore season, and a redshirt-freshman passes you by. Whether it’s just being a senior or working hard, he’s putting a zip on his passes you wouldn’t see two years ago.
He’s making plays with his arm that you wouldn’t see him making as a sophomore, and it’s truly eye-opening at times.
What does the Rebels defense bring to the table?
That’s probably the question that hasn’t been answered yet, and we’ll find that answer out Saturday.
UNLV hasn’t played an offense quite like Fresno State’s, and the Rebels surely haven’t played a quarterback like Derek Carr. Minnesota, Arizona and New Mexico are run-first teams the Rebels have played (make your own cases about Western Illinois and Central Michigan, if you wish). The only pass-happy offense UNLV has played so far is Hawaii, and that’s not saying much.
While the numbers of allowed pass yardage have been great, this is the first true test of the year for UNLV, and it just so happens to be the biggest game to date in the Hauck era.
In order to extend its streak to five straight wins and pull the upset, what does UNLV have to do right Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium?
First, UNLV needs to match Fresno State point-for-point, and if there was ever a chance to do it, this offense has the capability to do it.
The Rebels can’t expect Fresno State to jump ahead 14 points and find a way to stop them, all of a sudden. Herring and company are going to have to come out of the gate early and put points on the board. Second, create turnovers.
We’ve seen how Fresno has been at keeping things close, most notably against Hawaii and Boise State. If UNLV can get some stops and create some turnovers, the Rebels may have a shot.
But again, this defense hasn’t been tested yet, and they’ll have their hands full with Davante Adams and Josh Harper.