For the UNLV Rebels, this year's trip to Madison was the polar opposite of last year's. In 2003, an opportunistic UNLV team took advantage of five Wisconsin turnovers en route to a 23-5 victory. The Rebels used an aggressive, blitzing defense and totaled eight sacks in the win.
On Saturday, it was the Rebels who made the crucial mistakes in an 18-3 defeat. The defense forced only one turnover, the offense failed to get into the end zone, and the special teams were disastrous.
"I think last year we played pretty much a similar game, tackling well and running to the ball," Rebel All-American safety Jamaal Brimmer said. "This year, we just didn't get turnovers where we got a chance to return them, or move in their red zone to give our offense back the ball there. I just feel they got great field position as far as punting the ball and executing, not making any mistakes."
At times, the Rebel offense showed promise but failed to put points on the scoreboard.
"We were moving the ball on offense early and late in the game," tailback Dominique Dorsey said. "It was just unfortunate that we had some bad breaks."
Sophomore quarterback Shane Steichen passed for 100 yards on just 12 of 27 passing after being forced into action when starter Kurt Nantkes suffered a hip injury on the Rebels' opening drive.
"(Nantkes) got hit and landed on his hip…he said he could have played, but I think that was more of an oath than it was reality," head coach John Robinson said.
The first of what would be many UNLV miscues came with 22 seconds left in the first quarter with the ball resting at the Rebel three-yard line. Long snapper Ryan Heise snapped the ball over punter Gary Cook's head and out of the end zone.
"The snap, the two points, I didn't feel real bad about the two points," Robinson said. "A seven-point block [would have been worse], or they were a really good punt return team, so when he put it out of the end zone I wasn't happy, but I didn't feel like that was a disastrous move."
The turning point of the game for the Rebels came late in the second quarter. Steichen had led the offense on a long drive starting at the team's own 20 yard-line. The UNLV attack stalled at the Wisconsin 13 yard-line, and Sergio Aguayo's 30-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Rebels a 3-2 lead was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Badger safety Jim Leonhard.
"The blocked field goal return for a touchdown, he just kicked it…I could have blocked it on my hands and knees," Robinson said. "He just didn't kick it very well. So that was that."
Prior to the field goal mishap, Steichen misfired on a pass to fullback Dyante Perkins, who was open behind the Badger defense.
"We could move the ball … sometimes," Robinson said. "We had a touchdown – we had a guy wide open going into the end zone in the first half and Shane Steichen threw it a little low. And we had a couple other chances, but we had to get into the end zone to make it a close game."
Later in the game UNLV would surrender its second safety of the day, when Steichen was sacked in the end zone. The California native was not happy with the play or his overall performance.
"I came in, I felt good," Steichen said. "And then the second half, we came out and just didn't have anything going for us. I fell apart, and I take the blame for that. I could have done some stuff better, I took a safety in the end zone and I could have thrown the ball away. There's just some stuff we could change, and I didn't adjust."
The lone bright spot of the game was the defense, which only allowed one touchdown and time after time stopped a Badger offense that was repeatedly given excellent field position.
"We did what we could do, but we still lost the game," Brimmer said of the defense. "So that's all that matters, whoever wins."
Robinson is ready to move on after losing two tough road games, the first coming at the hands of Tennessee, in the last six days.
"We get to go home, have a day off and start getting ready for our remaining nine games," Robinson said. "Obviously these have been a difficult six days for us. I believe our players played very hard today and played the entire game. I thought it was quite a struggle."
Rebels squander chances in loss
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