The UNLV football team walked to the line of scrimmage and was about to the hike the ball. But the referees quickly stopped the play.
The reason? The Rebel cheerleaders were still on the field, probably not in sync at this stage of the season with timing their routine to game stoppages.
The football Rebels appeared to have the same problem. Three plays into the ensuing drive, running back Charles Williams fumbled and Howard returned the ball 75 yards for a touchdown in one of the many miscues leading to a head-scratching 43-40 defeat to the lower-level opponent in the season opener.
If this isn’t the worst loss in program history, please let me know which game was more embarrassing. Southern Utah in 2011? Northern Arizona the following year? Nope. This was worse.
The Rebels were favored by more than 40 points against an opponent coming off a two-win season. Many pegged them for a breakout season, ending with an appearance in a bowl game. Not so fast. Not after giving up 40 points to Howard.
“It is unacceptable and we have to get better,” coach Tony Sanchez said. “The only thing that can fix it is going out and winning next week.”
This is a black-eye that soon won’t go away. The Rebels seemed unprepared and continued to make the same mistakes.
Here are the lowlights:
• On the opening kickoff, they were flagged for being offside. Yep, first play of the first game in a preview of mistakes to come.
• On a short kickoff by Howard late in the third quarter, Tariq Hollandsworth muffed the catch and Howard got the ball deep in UNLV territory. It ultimately scored to take a fourth-quarter lead, and would never trail again. But get this: It was the second time the Rebels couldn’t field a kickoff (however the fumble earlier in the game was recovered).
• Three times in the first half, the Rebels were penalized for illegal motion inside the Howard 20-yard line and had to settle for field goals. They also missed two field goals.
• After going three-and-out to open the second half, UNLV had a pair of 5-yard penalties — delay of game and illegal motion — before getting the punt off. Then, when trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, the Rebels were again flagged for a delay of game when lined up to punt. That put punter Evan Pantels in the end zone for his kick, which got stuck in the wind and was downed at the UNLV 25. UNLV, though, got the ball back — well, for one play.
• Armani Rogers completed a pass over the middle to true freshman Drew Tejchman, who was stripped of the ball near midfield. Howard recovered to complete the upset.
At the beginning of the night, the plan was to write about how this game wasn’t a good indicator of how the season would play out because Howard was such a weak opponent. We wouldn’t get a good glimpse of the new-and-improved Rebels until next week at Idaho. Turns out I was painfully wrong.
If this is a preview of things to come, it will be another bowl-less season for UNLV.
"This is a game we gave away," Sanchez said.
Let’s use the glass half-full philosophy: There’s a lot of football left and a lot of chances for the Rebels to redeem themselves. Many of the mistakes were made by younger players, including freshmen — Hollandsworth and Tejchman — in their first college game.
If tonight serves as a wake-up call for the rest of the season, and the Rebels somehow turn this ugly result into a positive, then it’s a valuable lesson learned.
Could tonight’s step back translate into a step forward come November? Nobody who witnessed tonight’s series of mistake after mistake would believe so, but that’s for the players to determine. They can’t let tonight define the season. There are still 11 games left.
How about the glass half-empty: The Rebels are believed to be the biggest betting favorite to lose outright ever. They gave up more than 300 rushing yards to a significantly inferior opponent. You couldn’t ask for an easier opening-game foe, and yet UNLV played down to the competition. You can’t give any opponent an extra down, free yards or points off turnovers and expect to win.
After tonight, the expectations will surely be low. But, again, it’s just one night. The season will be judged on how the Rebels respond to losing to Howard, not that they lost to Howard.