LAS VEGAS Leading up to Saturday night's game against UNLV, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and his players insisted that the Rebels were much-improved over the last couple of seasons.
UNLV proved them right.
The Cougars had pounded the Rebels in their previous two meetings by a combined score of 107-21. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, UNLV showed it has indeed made big strides this season.
But the impressive effort still wasn't enough to beat BYU. UNLV, which hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 2000, nearly knocked off nationally ranked Wisconsin and blanked Utah in September. Against BYU, the Rebels took an early 3-0 lead well into the second quarter, but the Cougars pulled away in the second half to earn a hard-fought 24-14 victory.
Another sign that UNLV football is on the rise? Saturday's game marked the third sellout of the season, as a crowd of 38,026 watched the contest. It was the biggest crowd to watch the Rebels play a conference game at home in school history.
As has been a recurring theme this season for BYU on the road, the Cougars were their own worst enemies, turning the ball over three times in the first half on a fumble and two interceptions. Prior to Saturday's game, BYU had turned the ball over nine times in three road games. At UCLA and Tulsa, those turnovers proved costly. At New Mexico, BYU had two turnovers, but the Lobos had five.
LAS VEGAS BOWL A NEAR-SELLOUT: The way things are going, BYU could end up playing in the Las Vegas Bowl for a third straight season. Tickets to this year's Las Vegas Bowl are being gobbled up quickly.
Less than 2,000 tickets are still available for purchase for the bowl game, which sold out the previous two years.
"The Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl continues to develop into one our city's top events and the demand for tickets comes earlier each year," said executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, who attended Saturday's game between BYU and UNLV. "It's only October but we fully expect a third consecutive sold-out game and want to make sure to get the word out to fans that tickets are going fast."
The Las Vegas Bowl pits the No. 1 pick from the MWC against the No. 4 or No. 5 team from the Pac-10 Conference. This year's game is on Dec. 22 at 6 p.m.
Last December, a crowd of 44,615 watched BYU crush Oregon, 38-8. It was the largest crowd to watch a team sporting event in the state of Nevada.EXTRA POINTS: BYU has now won 11 straight MWC games and nine straight MWC road games ... BYU now has an all-time 9-2 record at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Cougars are a perfect 7-0 here against UNLV; 1-1 in WAC championship games; and 1-1 in the Las Vegas Bowl ... Going into Saturday's game, UNLV had notched two wins (its only two wins) against Utah State (23-16) and Utah (27-0). Saturday's loss to BYU prevented the Rebels from completing a sweep of Beehive State teams ... Tight end Vic So'oto's 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter was his first career TD ... Bryce Mahuika recorded a career-high 34-yard kickoff return in the first half ... Wide receiver Austin Collie, running back Manase Tonga and cornerback Ben Criddle all played Saturday after nursing injuries leading up to the game.