## ## UNLV comes up short in opener at Northern Illinois but shows promise
More Coverage Take 5: What to watch for in UNLV’s 2015 opener at Northern Illinois Previous UNLV coaches have had mixed results in debuts A fresh attack: Cosmetic changes could only be the start of Coach Tony Sanchez’s new Rebel era The Sun’s UNLV football sectionBox score Northern Illinois 38, UNLV 30There were 98 seconds left before halftime, and the UNLV football team had the ball at its own 20 yard line.The Rebels had just surrendered a touchdown to host Northern Illinois, allowing the 23 point betting favorites to easily drive down the field and cut UNLV’s double digit lead to seven points.UNLV easily could have run out the clock to take a lead into halftime. Taking a knee, though, isn’t part of Tony Sanchez’s personality.If we learned anything Saturday in Sanchez’s coaching debut, a 38 30 loss to the Huskies, it’s that the new coach has the Rebels heading in the right direction. His aggressive mentality in remaking the program in the offseason, with changes such as new uniforms and a fresh coat of paint in the football complex, has carried over onto the field.Yes, the Rebels lost. And, of course, Sanchez and his players aren’t satisfied. They didn’t score any points to close the half, but the decision to try to score could be considered a success because players saw their coach wasn’t going to back down.Even his biggest skeptics, those who questioned why UNLV officials hired Sanchez to make the leap from high school to college, now have evidence to change their tune.One game, even in defeat, and it’s obvious this is a new UNLV football program.”One thing I want to make very clear: Nobody in that locker room is into moral victories,” Sanchez said.The UNLV defense, which ranked last season as one of the nation’s worst, had some flashes of good play, twice forcing Northern Illinois to turn the ball over on downs in the first half. But in the second half the defense tired, and because the Rebels lack player depth, Northern Illinois was able to move the ball with relative ease.There were missed tackles and blown assignments in pass coverage, leading to Northern Illinois gaining 343 second half yards. The team had scoring drives of four plays over 63 yards, nine plays over 93 yards and eight plays over 39 yards. None of the drives took more than three minutes, as Northern Illinois running back Joel Bouagnon was unstoppable with 152 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. In the first half he carried just five times for 18 yards.”It’s all about consistency. You have to stay consistent,” said Peni Vea, UNLV’s senior linebacker. “Just a few mistakes and that’s it.”When Northern Illinois was scoring touchdowns, UNLV was forced to settle for field goals. Twice in the third quarter, the Rebels were in scoring position but were only able to get points from Nicolai Bornand’s kicks, including a 51 yarder.The Rebels trailed 38 23 with eight minutes remaining, but in a sign the program is showing improvements, rallied to make things interesting in the final minutes. Blake Decker, who passed for 319 yards and two touchdowns, connected with Aaron Criswell for a 41 yard touchdown with 5:26 remaining to trim the deficit to eight points.The defense responded with a three and out, giving the Rebels the ball at their 27 yard line with three minutes to play. The Rebels, somehow, had a chance to tie the game.”The good thing is our kids didn’t quit,” Sanchez said. “They kept fighting their tails off, and gave us a chance to tie it up at the end. Proud of them for that.”Decker drove the Rebels into Northern Illinois territory, but a fourth down pass was dropped by Devonte Boyd, the usually sure handed receiver, to end the threat with 1:20 to play.But the Rebels sure made things interesting.”There is a winner and a loser in college football, and you want to be on the winning end of it,” Decker said.These are more than words by Decker and his coach. The mentality of the program has changed. They believe they are better than a two win program of last year, and better than experts predicted. They expected to win.