WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer swap with Mark Anderson, who covers UNLV football for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Anderson answers five questions Gagliardi gave him about UNLV, and then Gagliardi answers five questions Anderson had about Wyoming.
Look for Q&As with writers who cover the opponents of the University of Wyoming football program every Friday.
Question: This will be UNLV’s final home game but will it be the final home game for coach Bobby Hauck, who is 6-30 in nearly three full seasons?
Answer: No, Bobby Hauck will return next season. Athletic director Jim Livengood said two weeks ago he had seen enough progress, despite the record, that warrants sticking with Hauck.
Q: How would you rate junior running back Tim Cornett with the other top backs in the Mountain West, and what makes him unique from the likes of Stephon Jefferson at Nevada, Robbie Rouse of Fresno State and Kasey Carrier of New Mexico?
A: I think Cornett rates with any back in the league. He is big and fast, able to provide the tough inside running while busting outside for a big gain. Cornett has excellent vision, and is great at following blocks and knowing what moves to make at what time. All three of those other backs share those attributes.
Q: Quarterback Nick Sherry is the only a freshman and his numbers seem decent, but how do you think he’s performed this season?
A: Sherry has been outstanding. He’s having the best season for a UNLV quarterback since Jon Denton in the mid 1990s. But you see some of Sherry’s inexperience when he forces some passes, and he will learn as he gets older. At the same time, you don’t want to cut down too much on his aggressiveness.
Q: UNLV’s defensive statistics look to be better than last season. How much better is this group and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
A: The defense is getting better, particularly over the past three weeks. On Saturday at Colorado State, the defense really only gave up 12 points because three touchdowns were a result of turnovers. UNLV has many promising young players on defense, so I can see more noticeable improvement next season. Having said all that, the defense still gives up way too many yards.
Q: How do you see Saturday’s game unfolding and what’s your predicted final score?
A: I think it comes down to Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. He’s the type of quarterback the Rebels really struggle to defend, and if he has a good day, it will be awfully difficult for UNLV win. The Rebels will then need to win a shootout, which they can, but I see Wyoming winning 31-27.
Q: The emails that went public regarding coach Dave Christensen’s actions after the Air Force game indicate deep issues between him and donors. Is that accurate, and how do you see that situation playing out?
A: Christensen’s actions have certainly brought out his detractors and skeptics. Not only among fans and donors, but within the university itself. And, with a new president coming aboard next year it will be interesting how all this plays out. However, Wyoming signed him to a new five-year, $1.2 million contract after last season. The school has been in a pattern lately with its football and men’s basketball coaches of firing them with multiple years left on their contracts. That’s not good for any school, let alone a school like Wyoming where the coaching challenges are large enough. I think Christensen will survive this as long as nothing like what happened against Air Force happens again, and he can show consistent improvement year in and year out.
Q: Wyoming’s players seem to be playing hard for Christensen. How has he kept the team together?
A: Christensen has said all season the team has good senior leadership in players like center Nick Carlson, linebacker Korey Jones and safety Luke Ruff. That’s been a big factor in the team sticking together. Christensen said there has not been a lack of effort or want-to from all the players despite the rough season, and I think it starts with the seniors. The younger players have said numerous times they want to finish the season strong for the seniors. Christensen and the staff have done a good job of keeping the group together, but most of the credit, in my opinion, goes to the seniors.
Q: The Cowboys obviously suffered some tough early losses. Are they much better than their record?
A: I think Wyoming is better than its record, but it’s either feast or famine with this team in the Christensen era. Fifteen of his 21 wins have been by eight points or less. If even one play in any of the Cowboys’ four losses that were by a combined 13 points goes in the their favor, things would be different. But that didn’t happen. There are some good players in the program, but not enough to consistently win close games and certainly not enough to overpower teams. Wyoming isn’t in the class of Fresno State or Boise State in the Mountain West, but they’re not far from the rest of the pack.
Q: How different would the season have been if Brett Smith had stayed healthy?
A: Wyoming definitely beats Cal Poly at home, and Smith had 401 yards of total offense before he was knocked out of the Toledo game midway through the fourth quarter. The Cowboys took a seven-point lead at Nevada on a Smith touchdown run before he got ejected for his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and where he also suffered his second concussion. I think there would have been at least two more wins had Smith stayed healthy, and as many as four.
Q: Is there hope for the defense to get better with the current personnel, or will Wyoming need major upgrades through recruiting?
A: There is some hope with the current personnel, but help in recruiting also is needed. Wyoming redshirted 18 players this season, and many of them should help defensively — especially up front. Christensen redshirted 18 players in his first three recruiting classes. There are some promising youngsters in the secondary. Wyoming also has been very conservative on defense. It doesn’t take a lot of chances in man coverage and wants to keep the ball in front of it to avoid giving up big plays. That hasn’t worked well this season. An upgrade of talent is needed, but it needs to take more chances and allow some of the players in the secondary make some plays.