Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 | 2 a.m.
You know it wasn’t a good week when the team was thinking about what might have happened if only the halftime deficit could have been 28 instead of 35.
Looking back at his team's 42-23 home loss to Colorado State, UNLV coach Tony Sanchez felt that as bad as things went, it was the Rebels’ questionable fumble right before halftime — the backwards pass was held up on review — that pushed the Rams’ lead to insurmountable. Whether things would have actually played out differently is impossible to know, but what matters at this stage is that the Rebels do have some recent experience shaking off an ugly performance.
“Now, we’ve got to respond,” Sanchez said.
UNLV (3-5, 2-2) travels to San Jose State (2-6, 1-3) for a 7:32 p.m. kickoff on Saturday at CEFCU Stadium. The game will air on CBS Sports Network.
For the second straight week the Rebels are 2.5-point favorites, but obviously that mattered not to a Colorado State team that took a 35-0 halftime lead while UNLV controlled the ball barely more than nine minutes. Three minutes and 49 seconds of that was spent on UNLV’s opening drive, which stalled on a failed third-and-one attempt.
UNLV has been good in those short-yardage situations this season, senior center Will Kreitler said, but on that play a couple of players were late off the snap and senior running back David Greene was stuffed, leading to a missed field goal. Similarly, junior defensive tackle Mike Hughes Jr. said the defense got pushed back on its heels on CSU’s first drive and didn’t recover until the second half.
“We let the first drive dictate what we did the rest of the first half,” Hughes said. “We kind of played not to win but rather to not mess up.”
In other words, the Rebels were inconsistent, a theme throughout the season and something that the majority of teams deal with, especially ones with a freshman quarterback. Dalton Sneed has now started four games at quarterback, and while his numbers are very similar to former starter Johnny Stanton — Stanton: 46.7 completion percentage, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 5.8 yards per carry; Sneed: 46.8, 5 TDs, 2 INTs, 6.8 ypc — it’s been feast or famine.
San Diego State’s defense rattled him and held Sneed to only nine passing yards, and in the first half against CSU he was 1-of-8 for 14 yards as the offense couldn’t stay on the field. While SDSU’s defensive line is perhaps the best UNLV will face all season, and thus the struggle was at least understandable, the lack of a counterpunch against the Rams was concerning.
“In order to be successful, you’ve got to have a little looseness to you, you’ve got to have fun doing it, you’ve got to maintain the swagger,” Sanchez said. “As soon as you get tight, your execution starts to fade.”
Against the Rams, the Rebels got tight immediately and it quickly got out of hand. In the victory at Hawaii, they continued to play their game throughout and found answers.
The optimism heading into San Jose State, which just lost at SDSU 42-3 and counts a 14-10 victory against UNR as its lone Mountain West win, is that UNLV went on the road and pulled out that Hawaii performance a week after SDSU. Now, again, the Rebels are trying to shake off an ugly game by heading on the road to face a beatable opponent.
A bowl berth would now be a stretch, though not out of reach, but either way it could be achieved if UNLV succeeds with the mission Sanchez has set forth for the rest of the season. The first four games of league play have been a roller coaster, and Sanchez is trying to get the Rebels to switch to a calmer, more consistent ride.
“We fully go in intending to win all of them, but we want to see a consistency in our effort and our progression getting better as a football program for four consecutive weeks,” Sanchez said. “That is so darn important.”