This game, was not supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a cakewalk. The heavily-favored Badgers were supposed to thrash the visiting Rebels.
Rather, on this day, it was the Rebels who did the thrashing.
Second and goal at the seven, and UNLV runs right. Wisconsin's defense gets a nice surge and closes down the gaps; Dominique Dorsey picks up just one yard. After the whistle, safety Joe Stellmacher, called for defensive holding just two plays before, gets into a little extracurricular pushing and shoving with UNLV running back Deon Burnett. Just a little extra for good measure is all. Nothing to warrant referee intervention. But, frustration—indelible frustration—is already beginning to show in the Badgers' play.
How is this happening? The game was like a fog. Were they really playing this poorly? It was likely watching the football program's cumulative nightmare. Many people at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday—players, coaches, fans, media—before this game, before this season, had felt this team had a chance. They could win every game, could they not? They had the talent, they just needed to put it together, was a common sentiment.
Third-and-goal from the six.
Afterward, outside Wisconsin's locker room, one of the many distraught faces belonged to defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. "We have to hold them to three," he would say. "We have to keep them out of the end zone. That is our job. That is what we have to do."
Not today. Not much would go right for the Badgers today.
Third-and-goal from the six. Fade route. Kurt Nantkes lobs it up, hoping his receiver can make a play. Levonne Rowan has perfect position and gets a hand on the ball. Earvin Johnson, though, snags it before it can flail too far from his grasp, secures it, oh so barely, and keeps his feet in bounds.
The extra point went awry, making it 16-5, but a measly point after did not matter much on this day.
UNLV's drive had started at the Wisconsin 14 following an interception, one of five Badger turnovers on this day. Only three plays later, the Rebels had six more to tally.
"I don't care where they get the ball we have to hold them to a field goal," Cosgrove would comment following the game.
The exasperation was all too evident Saturday. On the faces of Wisconsin's coaching staff as they moved from the coaches box to the locker room at halftime; in the way the team, particularly on offense, pressed throughout the game, getting so little positive result in return for their efforts; in the way players looked sideswiped after the game.
"I really don't have anything to explain it," linebacker Jeff Mack said. "(UNLV) played hard. We didn't come out with the right mind frame and they took advantage of that."
Such a day, where, prior to the fourth quarter, UNLV's players had far more reason to "Jump Around" along the sideline, as well they did. Why not get excited, when your team is not just pulling an upset, but positively dominating a ranked team on their turf. Why not get excited when your team, expected to roll over for the vaunted Badgers, likely inserts the seeds of doubt in some 75,000-plus at Camp Randall on this day. Is Wisconsin really a good team? Is the offense really as good as everyone had thought? Is there a fatal flaw, such as what was shown Saturday, when UNLV, a team that allowed 546 yards to Kansas the week before, positively perplexes the Badgers high-flying attack from the opening whistle?
"The way our offense was rolling, the amount of yards we had picked up, I don't think anyone thought that it would happen, but it happened today," left tackle Morgan Davis said.
"Can't panic," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "We know we have good players. Obviously we have to do a great job of coaching them; remain focused and positive, as positive as they can be. Realistic also in terms of what just happened and why it happened—and correct it."
"Bottom line is we didn't get the win," linebacker Chris Catalano said. "We have to improve for next week. That is the only thing we are thinking about right now."