Jack Dempsey / Associated Press
Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The Rebels won in the final minute at Hawaii and now they return home to face Colorado State with a chance to get to .500 on the season. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and sports writers Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss whether or not winning one coin-flip game can help the Rebels in their next one.
This time of year in college football is a lot about assessment. Where is your team right now and, more important, where can they still go?
On Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, two teams in similar positions will meet for a game that could essentially decide which one of them makes a bowl game. That’s the reality for UNLV (3-4, 2-1) and Colorado State (3-4, 1-2), and how they discuss that has a lot to do with each program’s vantage point.
The Rams, who still have road games at Air Force and San Diego State this season, have made a bowl game three straight seasons and 10 times since joining the Mountain West in 1999. A loss to the favored Rebels would really put the pressure on and make getting to .500 a tough uphill climb.
“Everybody understands what’s out there if we win X number of games," second-year CSU coach Mike Bobo said this week. “But that’s something we won’t be talking about as a program. We’ll be talking about trying to build off last week, correct what we didn’t do well and then expand on what we did do well.”
On the other side are the Rebels, who are just as committed to the one-game-at-a-time mentality but are also able to take stock of the current situation. In the same span that CSU has reached 10 bowl games, UNLV has had 10 seasons with three or fewer victories, so getting to that mark with five games to go is a not-insignificant milestone.
“Now that we’re at three wins right now, we all have more of a sense of belief now that we can go out and reach our goals,” Hawthorne said.
Despite the loss to Idaho, pretty much everything the Rebels set out to accomplish this season is still attainable. While they would need some help from San Diego State to fall back for a shot at the West Division crown, UNLV can still win make the postseason and keep the Fremont Cannon, perhaps even in the same game (Nov. 26 at home vs. UNR).
“All the goals that we set forward at the beginning of the year, they’re all still there,” said UNLV coach Tony Sanchez.
Other than the Nov. 18 trip to Boise State, UNLV has a reasonable chance to win each of its remaining games. Winning three out of four of those will take even more improvement from a defense that’s had great performances from senior linebacker Tau Lotulelei and balance from an offense that was able to find it for the first time in awhile in last week’s 41-38 win at Hawaii.
“We were able to run the ball against Hawaii but our ability to throw the ball down the field, take some shots, extend the field and make them play coverage made a big difference to the run game,” Sanchez said.
It’s a chicken or the egg quandary for an offense with one of the nation’s best rushing offenses (17th) and one of its worst passing offenses (112th). To make both aspects of their attack really work, Sanchez wants quarterback Dalton Sneed to be comfortable throwing downfield, and doing that is the only chance of stopping every defense from continuously loading the box to stop UNLV on the ground.
Against the Rainbow Warriors, the Rebels eclipsed at least 250 yards rushing and passing for only the second time under Sanchez. It doesn’t have to be that good all the time, but Sneed’s performances need to be something closer to his 279 yards at Hawaii than the nine yards at San Diego State for this to work.
“If we can go ahead and add another (win) to it, I think it’s the first time we would show consistent progress two years in a row since the John Robinson era,” Sanchez said.
Indeed, UNLV hasn’t improved its record for two straight seasons since 2001-03 under Robinson. The Rebels could accomplish that, and then possibly much more, with a win Saturday.