This is the 12th and final installment of my offseason “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. Today, we’ll take a look at the team the Falcons meet in their regular season finale – UNLV.
Coach: Bobby Hauck
2009 Record: 5-7 (3-5, 6th place in the Mountain West Conference)
2009 vs. AF: Air Force 45, UNLV 17
2009 in a Sentence: The Rebels started out 2-1, with the loss coming by two points to Oregon State, but they dropped six of their next eight to fall out of contention for a bowl, which led to the firing of head coach Mike Sanford.
Off/Def Starters Back: 8/7
Roster Report: UNLV should have some firepower on offense with the return of several key skill position players and a solid offensive line.
But offense hasn’t been the Rebels’ problem in recent seasons.
In 2009, the Rebels ranked 115th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision squads in total defense, allowing 456.2 yards per game, including 220.6 rushing yards per game (tied for 112th in the country). They also gave up 32.4 points per game (103rd nationally).
First-year coach Hauck said at the MWC media days that the Rebels’ defense needs to become more technically sound and eliminate errors.
“We need to have our defensive plays where people are making mistakes decrease,” he said. “If you have guys in the wrong gaps or guys blowing coverages, it doesn’t take many plays before the game gets away from you.”
Offensively, the Rebels return a pair of experienced quarterbacks.
Senior Omar Clayton has started 23 games for the Rebels and ranks sixth in school history with 4,742 passing yards. Also back is junior Mike Clausen, who played in every game last season. They’ll have one of the league’s best receivers in junior Phillip Payne, who was a preseason All-MWC selection after catching 58 passes for 661 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns in 2009.
Up front, the Rebels return four starters, including center John Gianninoto and tackles Matt Murphy and Evan Marchal.
Hauck wants to get away from the wide-open spread attack employed by Sanford and go with one built around a physical running game. But that’s a change that will happen over time.
“It would be crazy for us to not have some spread concepts in our offense because we’ve got spread personnel,” Hauck said.
Fast Fact: Hauck went 80-17 in seven seasons at Montana.
But he has a huge challenge in front of him in Vegas.
Since going 8-5 in 2000, UNLV has not had a winning record.
The records the Rebels have posted since then, starting in 2001: 4-7, 5-7, 6-6, 2-9, 2-9, 2-10, 2-10, 5-7, 5-7.
What Caught My Eye: The Rebels’ schedule. In addition to their MWC slate, they play Idaho, West Virginia and Hawai’i on the road and open at home against Wisconsin. In all, the Rebels face nine teams that appeared in bowl games last season.
No wonder MWC commissioner Craig Thompson believes UNLV “over-scheduled.”
Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force, minus-13.5. The regular season finale is Air Force’s lone game that won’t be played on a Saturday. So after 11 straight games, the Falcons will have to adjust to a short week of practice and a quick turnaround. But while crazy things tend to happen in Las Vegas, the Falcons still appear to be a safe bet here.
Final Thought: Yes, the Mike Sanford Era has ended. But we’ll always have this moment.