Shannon Broderick / Associated Press
Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The season hasn’t gone the way UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wanted it to go, and following a bye week, his team finds itself pitted against a program that’s one step ahead.
In 2013, Wyoming fired coach Dave Christensen after a two-win season. UNLV gave former coach Bobby Hauck the same treatment after two wins in 2014.
In his first two years, current Wyoming coach Craig Bohl amassed only six wins, but the Cowboys showed progress in other ways.
Sanchez’s win total through his first two seasons – six.
In Bohl’s third year, Wyoming (7-2, 5-0) has stormed through the Mountain West Conference and enters a game with UNLV (3-6, 2-3) at 12:38 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium three wins away from going undefeated in conference play.
“(Wyoming) just kept pounding away at the little things and following the plan, and that’s the same thing we’re doing here,” Sanchez said. “Getting the mindset of coming to work everyday in the weight room and coming to spring ball. It’s literally changing a culture and it takes a lot. Even if everyone has bought in it still takes time and this team coming in here is a great reflection of that.”
The Rebels have hung close in many of their losses this season, including at UCLA when they were down only one score entering the fourth quarter.
“We have to get better in the win column but we are getting better statistically on both sides of the ball. We wish it would translate in to wins a lot faster,” Sanchez said. “We know what’s going on, and the success that’s down the pipeline but you have to stay on the path.”
The Rebels face a huge roadblock in that path this week in a red-hot Wyoming team riding a five-game winning streak and fresh off of a 52-28 blowout victory over Utah State.
Cowboys running back Brian Hill has run for 1,298 and 13 touchdowns this year, and will test the Rebels’ 65th ranked run defense.
“(Hill) is more of your traditional, downhill, big runner. He matches what they want to do on offense,” Sanchez said. “The key to the game is to stop the run and we have to make them one-dimensional.”
UNLV has been equally successful running the ball, but held back by an atrocious passing game. Kurt Palandech will get the start under center after completing 10-of-21 passes for 161 yards 1 touchdown and an interception in a 30-24 loss at San Jose State two weeks ago.
“He just has a little bit better grasp of the offense,” Sanchez said. “He’s started games before and had success before and because of that he’s just a little bit calmer.”
Palandech helped Devonte Boyd to one of his best games of the season, as the junior receiver caught six passes for 136 yards.
“Kurt is really good on his feet and he can make a lot of guys miss, so I feel like a play is never really dead,” Boyd said. “He can hit somebody on the scramble so you know to never turn your back on him.”
The Rebels will need to take advantage of Wyoming’s 89th ranked passing defense to have any shot at winning the game. The Rebels have lost three straight to the Cowboys, and are 2-8 against Wyoming in the last 10 meetings.
While a bowl berth this year is still possible, it's unlikely. UNLV needs to build towards the future and the team they face this Saturday might have the blueprint.
While you won’t find two cities more different than Laramie, Wyo., and Las Vegas, the same concepts apply to both football programs.
“I don’t care if you grew up on a farm or if you grew up in the inner city, those are both tough situations,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think one makes you tougher than the other. We’re just scrapping for a win right now. We are sitting at three and we just want to get to four.”