Denis Poroy, Associated Press
Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 | 12:36 a.m.
The Rebels are 1-0 in Mountain West play and this week they head to San Diego State as 14-point underdogs. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss their expectations for freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed's second start and how the nation's No. 9 rushing offense will do against the No. 14 rushing defense.
Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but they capture everything that mattered in UNLV’s 26-7 loss Saturday night at San Diego State.
For example: nine. That was the Rebels’ total passing yards, the second-lowest in program history, and quarterback Dalton Sneed’s inability to do anything through the air was what ensured defeat.
Because after getting pushed over on the first drive of the game, UNLV’s defense played well, turning in perhaps its best performance of the season. But that didn’t get the Rebels any closer to victory because only once did the offense even cross the 50-yard line, and that happened after the outcome was decided.
“The biggest glaring thing that was very obvious tonight, we just struggled in the quarterback department,” coach Tony Sanchez said. “It is what it is; we’ve got to get better at that. He’s a redshirt freshman; you can’t put that on him.”
San Diego State senior running back Donnel Pumphrey, a Canyon Springs High grad, finished with 141 yards and a touchdown plus a career-high seven catches for 57 yards. Junior Rashaad Penny, generally a return specialist, also ran for a career-high 110 yards while sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman completed 15-of-20 passes for 215 yards and a score.
Making his second career start, Sneed threw his first career interception on UNLV’s first offensive play. Sanchez wanted to take some shots to create space in San Diego State’s defense, but that pressure never released as the Aztecs were able to load the box all night.
The Aztecs’ defensive front “messed with (Sneed) pretty good,” Sanchez said. They showed some blitz looks that got Sneed to check into plays more advantageous for SDSU, so much so that Sanchez didn’t allow Sneed to call audibles in the second half.
It hardly mattered. Thanks to senior defensive lineman Dominic Baldwin’s scoop and score in the first quarter, the Rebels trailed by only six at halftime despite running just 19 offensive plays, but the defense couldn’t keep carrying the weight for the entire team.
Some more numbers: SDSU controlled time of possession 38:02 to 21:58, outgained UNLV 460-122 and gained 22 first downs to the Rebels’ nine. It was a big learning experience for Sneed, who eventually gave way to junior quarterback Kurt Palandech, and Sanchez said he expects both quarterbacks to play moving forward.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words for it,” said Sneed, who wanted any blame for the offensive line instead placed on him. “I’ve never been on the offensive side of the ball and not been able to put one point on the board.”
Any and all positives for UNLV occurred on defense, where senior linebacker Tau Lotulelei had a stellar game with 11 tackles, including three for losses. Senior safety Troy Hawthorne also recorded 16 tackles, and for a long time the Rebels kept making key stops that gave them a chance — if only the offense could have accomplished something.
“We played well enough to win on defense,” Sanchez said.
But offensively UNLV was no match for the Aztecs’ physicality. Few teams in the Mountain West are, really, and most of UNLV’s upcoming opponents will be closer to Fresno State, which UNLV defeated last weekend, than San Diego State.
“I don’t think we’re going to play another front that’s going to be that physical the rest of the way,” Sanchez said.
The Rebels should certainly hope not. This loss in itself wasn’t surprising — SDSU was a 16.5-point favorite — but offensive ineptitude of this magnitude is eye opening, and next week’s trip to Hawaii (3-2, 2-0) might not be as easy as it once appeared.
Still, there’s a clear dividing line between the league’s top two teams, SDSU and Boise State, and the rest of the league. UNLV can occasionally hold its own with the rest, but it’s not ready to punch above its weight.
“Bottom line is we got beat by a better football team,” Sanchez said. “They’re a better football team and they showed it.”