UNLV falters in season opener 51-23 at Minnesota
- Article by: DAVE CAMPBELL
- Associated Press
- September 2, 2013 - 6:03 PM
MINNEAPOLIS — UNLV coach Bobby Hauck wanted to keep his team fresh.
So the Rebels didn't work on full-contact kick coverage in spring practice or training camp, and Hauck put mostly backups on the special teams units. Minnesota's Marcus Jones changed the game, and maybe Hauck's mind, with one really long run.
Jones returned the second half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Gophers pulled away for a 51-23 victory over UNLV on Thursday, the 23rd loss in a row on the road for the Rebels.
"We got out of camp healthy. We didn't hurt anybody, but you know it wasn't good enough," Hauck said. "So we'll make improvement on that. You take a calculated risk, and the reward was not there for us tonight."
Minnesota turned a tight game into a romp without much help from the offense. Ra'Shede Hageman blocked a field goal that Martez Shabazz picked up and raced for a 78-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun scored on an 89-yard interception return in the fourth.
"I think we'll play much better next week in those areas," Jones said.
UNLV's Tim Cornett rushed 20 times for 80 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run to cap a commanding opening drive for the Rebels. Shaquille Murray-Lawrence gained 108 yards on four carries for UNLV, which last won away from Las Vegas was Oct. 24, 2009, at New Mexico.
Rebels wide receiver Marcus Sullivan, who was second on the team last season with 55 receptions and 659 yards, did not play. Hauck said he is dealing with a "private issue" that will take him "a while" to resolve, but he said Sullivan will return to the team eventually.
Philip Nelson ran for two touchdowns for Minnesota, including a 48-yard sprint in the second quarter. His best throw of the night was to freshman tight end Maxx Williams at the edge of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left in the first half. That score gave the Gophers the lead for good.
Nelson, though, was off the mark a lot. He went 10 for 22 for 99 yards and an interception and also fumbled on second-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the second quarter. He recovered, but an overthrow left the Gophers settling for a field goal. Backup Mitch Leidner relieved him late and ran for a score of his own.
For the most part, the Rebels had the better sophomore quarterback. Nick Sherry, who finished 35 for 50 for 226 yards, threw across his body on fourth down for a 34-yard touchdown pass to Devante Davis that put UNLV ahead 13-10 with 5:04 left in the first half. He added a short scoring toss in the closing minutes.
But Sherry, who was picked off three times by the Gophers last year, threw two interceptions in the fourth, the first of which went right to Boddy-Calhoun, one of two new starting cornerbacks for Minnesota.
"I made a mistake on my read, and it cost us big time," Sherry said. "It kind of got in my head, and you can't do that."
Taking the Gophers to triple overtime in a 30-27 loss last season in the opener in Las Vegas certainly gave the Rebels some confidence, even though they won only two games in 2012, their third year under coach Bobby Hauck. Their strong start here didn't last, though, after a kickoff-time temperature of 92 degrees that felt more like Nevada than Minnesota in late August. Six misting fans on each sideline helped keep the players cool, and a strong student-section showing yielded a crowd of 44,208.
The last time the Gophers scored this many points was 63 in 2006 for a win over Indiana at the Metrodome.
Roland Johnson also blocked an extra point for Minnesota on a tough night for UNLV kicker Nolan Kohorst, who also missed a 49-yard field goal. Kohorst made a 32-yarder after Sherry's throw to the near corner of the end zone went in and out of the hands of Jerry Rice Jr., the son of the Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver.
Despite a 419-320 advantage in total yards for the Rebels, they wound up losing by four touchdowns.
"I think we're going to have a good football team. I like our guys. I loved their approach to the game. They were locked in," Hauck said. "We've got to clean up. We cannot make big errors. Frankly, there are very few teams in college football that can make the big errors like we did today and win the game."
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