Rebels take a step backward in loss to Hawaii

One week after his young team appeared to have turned the corner while giving No. 5 Wisconsin a major scare, UNLV head coach Mike Sanford didn't have to worry about such things like his team accepting moral victories for its play against No. 22 Hawaii. Instead, he had to be concerned if maybe his squad may have actually taken a step backward.

The Rebels (1-2) were their own worst enemies in a 49-14 loss to the Warriors (3-0), committing a number of costly penalties including four personal fouls for late hits. Mix that in with a handful of dropped passes and some erratic passing by freshman quarterback Travis Dixon (19 of 37, 193 yards, 1 interception, 1 touchdown) and UNLV turned in easily its worst performance of the young season.

"I know this football team can play much better than that," Sanford said. "We're a young team. The big challenge right now is who are we? We've got to find out who we are and what we're made of. We'll find out about our ability to bounce back from a very disappointing and frustrating loss."

UNLV actually played well for about a quarter with the Rebel defense coming out and quickly forcing a three-and-out against Heisman hopeful Colt Brennan and the high-powered Hawaii offense.

The Rebel offense then opened the game with an impressive 79-yard, 13-play drive that chewed up 5:38 off the clock. Dixon connected with running back Frank Summers with a six-yard touchdown pass to cap the march and give UNLV an early 7-0 lead.

But Brennan, despite playing a sore right ankle that required a pain-killer injection before the game, showed why 12 NFL scouts were in attendance by putting together three consecutive touchdown drives that gave Hawaii a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

Brennan capped the first two series with one-yard quarterback scoring plunges and connected Ryan Grice-Mullen with a 13-yard scoring pass for the third touchdown.

The Brennan to Grice-Mullen touchdown pass capped just a 34-yard drive that followed a 14-yard punt by Brian Pacheco after a personal foul penalty stalled a UNLV drive.

"I thought we moved the ball decently at times on offense but we made some dumb mistakes that hurt us in some critical situations," Sanford said. "Those put us in some negative situations as far as long yardage problems. We had personal fouls … I'm shocked when I look at the statistics and see that they had more penalties than we did. We are a blue collar football team and we can't afford to make those kinds of mistakes."

The Rebels had a chance to cut the deficit before halftime but Dixon misfired on a pass to an open Ryan Wolfe on 3rd-and-8 at the Hawaii 20. Normally reliable placekicker Sergio Aguayo then hooked a 38-yarder.

UNLV's offense sputtered badly in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Brennan (26 of 32, 298 yards, two touchdowns) got hot and drove the Warriors on scoring drives of 73 and 88 yards to up Hawaii's lead to 35-7.

Any chance of a UNLV comeback were squashed on the ensuing possession when cornerback Ryan Mouton returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown to make it 42-7. Dixon's pass bounced off the hands of all-MWC wide receiver Ryan Wolfe directly to Mouton.

"We kind of killed ourselves from the beginning," Wolfe said. "We never got enough momentum to put a little scare into their defense and also into their offense. And when we go three-and-out, it makes it real tough on our defense to have to come right back on the field and have to stop them again."

Wolfe says he is confident the Rebels will be able to put the Hawaii loss behind them and get ready for their Mountain West Conference opener with Utah on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

"We'll bounce back," Wolfe said. "We'll be alright. … We know how to forget the past. It's exciting. We've got another home game and it's our Mountain West Conference opener."

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