LAS VEGAS — At halftime, 12 cabs lined up outside the press box at Sam Boyd Stadium. Three more arrived at the next light change off Broadbent Boulevard. Then a few more, until I stopped counting.
By the start of the third quarter, most of them were off to The Mirage or to the Whiskey-a-Go-Go or somewhere people gather to have fun on a Saturday night.
Who takes a cab to a football game? Who goes home at halftime?
You got the feeling UNLV’s football team was also looking down the road, looking for a way out. It was 45-6 and it seemed like 145-6.
Arizona was so overwhelming that you’d swear Rich Rodriguez’s playbook, his game plan for the Rebels, must’ve been labeled “Get Outta The Way.’’
The Wildcats won 58-13, and the only debate was whether the Rebels were that bad or the Wildcats that good.
Was that the worst FBS team Arizona has played in 10 years? Worse than the 2-10 Idaho team of 2008 that lost 70-0 in Tucson, more out-manned than the 1-11 Washington State team of 2009 that lost 48-7 in Tucson?
For sheer messiness, UNLV couldn’t get out of its own way. It threw seven consecutive incomplete passes in the first quarter. That just doesn’t happen in modern college football. It sent the punt team on the field, without a punter. It only tackled Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey on four of his first six carries; the other two times, he ran for 70 yards and two touchdowns.
And although I’m no doctor, it was mighty suspicious on three occasions when UNLV defensive players remained on the field, allegedly injured, in the first half, stopping the clock while awaiting medical attention.
Wouldn’t you have faked a cramp or ankle sprain, anything, to stop RichRod’s “Get Outta The Way” attack that gained 291 yards and scored 45 points before the cabs lined up?
Asked after the game about his state of mind, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck responded with one word: “Somber.”
It could’ve been worse.
In a football sense, Arizona killed the clock in the second half; it was the only piece of mercy. The Wildcats are also looking down the road, building a resume, and now, after crushing the Rebels, are thinking big (or at least bigger).
CBS Sports delayed its telecast of the game about 18 minutes, broadcasting the last-second drama of the Tulsa-Colorado State game. By the time it joined the action at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Wildcats had to be thinking “can it possibly be this easy?”
UNLV punted on a three-and-out possession, and with Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker gashing the Rebels, running for 58 yards in the first seven minutes, the answer was plainly “yes.”
We are unlikely to discover what Saturday’s game means until Sept. 28, when Arizona plays Washington at Husky Stadium. Is defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s defense truly as improved, physical and effective as it was looked the Rebels and NAU?
Is linebacker/safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant, who has been sensational, a certifiable All-American candidate? Does the UA’s lack of prolific passing numbers — Denker has averaged 17 attempts in two games; Arizona averaged 41 last season — mean it will be unable to move the ball against a Pac-12 defense?
Has the UA’s offensive line done anything more than “lean on” its out-gunned opponents?
“I was a little disappointed in my second-half performance,” said Denker, who then praised his offensive line, saying “we pushed their defensive line so far back.”
All of this prep work looks good now. I’m guessing RichRod hopes that Saturday’s opponent, Texas-San Antonio, provides more of a measurement of how much the Wildcats have improved since they began training camp Aug. 2.
UNLV officials generously listed Saturday’s attendance at 26,950, and, to Arizona’s credit, it wasn’t like thousands of Wildcat fans filled much of the place and made it a semi-home game. There couldn’t have been more than 3,000 blue-clad UA fans in the place.
It’s just that the Rebels’ crowd never got a chance to create a home-field atmosphere. That’s what happens when you have lost 34 of 40 games. Your window for momentum opens and shuts before you know it.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the cabs were gone and so was 90 percent of the crowd.
Much earlier, in the game’s deciding moments, in the first quarter, the Rebels had to realize they couldn’t keep up. On Denker’s 35-yard touchdown run, with Arizona snapping the ball in an average of roughly 12 seconds between plays, three UNLV defensive replacements were tardy getting on the field and into position.
While they rushed to get properly aligned, Denker took the snap from center and ran through open spaces you aren’t likely to see against Washington and USC.
Before the Wildcats left their hotel Saturday, conference rival Utah had scored 70 points and gained 628 yards against Weber State. Two days earlier, ASU scored 55 and gained 523 yards against Sacramento State.
Arizona matched those mash-jobs on Saturday night. The issue now is, what does it mean?
With five minutes remaining Saturday, UA defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich walked from the press box, removed his blue game shirt and popped a cigar into his mouth. He entered the Arizona locker room with 2:15 remaining.
The game had been over for hours.