New Mexico Lobos Football – vs. UNLV Rebels
When/Where: 6 p.m., (MT) Saturday – Branch Field – University Stadium
On The Air: ROOT Sports; 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network, ESPN Deportes (1450-AM)
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Complete Statistics, LoboTV
Promotions: UNM Homecoming; Postgame Balloon Glow Courtesy of Rainbow Ryders, Hot Air Balloon Ride Company
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
You have to figure the UNLV Rebels with step onto Branch Field with a little swagger – and a hot quarterback.
The swagger comes from Rebels looking back over their shoulders. They see some good things.
They see a history-making 38-7 pounding of Western Illinois. They see a history-tying 21-point comeback over Central Michigan.
They see a Rebel team that won one game via the pass and another Rebel team that won via the run with a little help from the pass. They see back-to-back victories for the first time since 2008.
They see a defense that has pretty much been dominant for six straight quarters.
They also see a quarterback who has shown the stuff that winning is made off.
The Rebs have some momentum coming into Albuquerque and a key to that momentum has been turning the pocket over to Caleb Herring.
Herring isn’t exactly a rookie to the UNLV pocket and definitely isn’t a rookie to the UNLV program. He’s a senior. He started four games for UNLV last year as a junior – at wide receiver. He also got a start in 2012 in the huddle vs. Wyoming. He started eight games at quarterback in 2011.
Herring lost the starting job in 2012 to 6-foot-5 Nick Sherry, who went into the 2013 season as the starter. Herring snatched that job back in dramatic fashion vs. Central Michigan.
The Rebels fell behind in that game 21-0 before turning to Herring. He was sensational. He pulled UNLV out of that hole by going 24-of-28 (.857 percent) through the air for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He broke a school percentage record of .808 set in 1974 by Randall Cunningham.
Against Western Illinois, the 6-3 Herring went 14-of-20 for 140 yards and one score and also ran for 57 yards. It wasn’t a game in which Herring was asked to carry a heavy load because the Rebels were running the ball well. Herring is 42-of-54 on the season with no interceptions and a 77.8 percent mark.
The presence of Herring presents a challenge for the young Lobo defense – a defense that gave up 527 yards in a 49-27 loss at Pittsburgh. Herring can hurt you passing, but the Rebels also like to pound the ball at teams on the ground. UNLV had 289 passing yards vs. Central Michigan and 284 rushing yards vs. Western Illinois.
It is a UNLV team that seeks a balanced attack, looking for the first half of that balance via the run. Herring also has a big target in 6-3 Davis Devante (18-for-309 yards) and a speedster in 5-11 Maika Mataele (14-for-124).
So, which way will the Rebels come at the Lobos? On the season over four games, UNLV averages 189 yards rushing and 195 yards passing. Tim Cornett isn’t exactly a household name in the Mountain West, but the 6-foot senior likely will end his career at UNLV as the Rebels’ leading rusher.
The Rebels ran for 284 yards vs. Western Illinois with four runners picking up more than 55 yards. Cornett picked up 83 yards while averaging 6.9 per carry.
The win over Central Michigan tied UNLV’s school record for a comeback. The win over Western Illinois set a program record for the fewest penalties. The Rebels were not flagged a single time.
UNLV Coach Bobby Hauck called the win over Western Illinois “a pretty complete win for us.” Hauck didn’t have much to complain about in that romp. It was a feel-good win on the scoreboard and statistically. Consider:
--The Rebels had no infractions.
--The Rebels had 284 yards on the ground.
--The Rebels had no turnovers and came up with two interceptions.
The 38-7 pounding was UNLV’s biggest win since they beat the Lobos by 35 in 2010. The Rebels also beat Bob Davie’s Lobos 35-7 in 2012 in Las Vegas. UNM ran for 307 yards vs. the Rebels in Vegas, but the Lobos gave up 289 yards passing and 244 on the ground. Cornett had 107 yards vs. UNM in that Vegas win.
The Rebels have been playing exceptional ball over the past six quarters. The comeback over Central Michigan seemed to provide a jolt of confidence for UNLV on both sides of the ball. At one point in the second quarter, Central Michigan had outgained UNLV 233 yards to 33. The Rebs won that stat battle 378-145 the rest of the way.
Western Illinois was more competitive on the stat sheet than it was on the scoreboard. They ran for 197 yards with J.C Baker going for 108 with a 7.2 average per carry.
There isn’t as much mystery as to what the Lobos will do on offense. They like to pound teams with their option and UNLV has shown some cracks in their running game. UNLV has given up an average of 232 yards per game on the ground.
Still, the Rebs come to Albuquerque on back-to-back wins – the first time a Hauck-led Rebel team has won back-to-back games.
The Rebels look to make it three straight when they visit the Lobos on Saturday.
Editor’s Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.