Friday, Oct. 28, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Basketball is about to start. How many new players can Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and Case Keefer name? Beyond that the guys talk about expectations for coach Marvin Menzies' first season and whether or not the football team can bounce back this week at San Jose State.
A few weeks ago, when it was pointed out that UNLV hadn’t won at San Diego State’s Qualcomm Stadium since 2000, UNLV coach Tony Sanchez joked that there were a lot of teams with streaks like that against the Rebels. It’s funny (or not) because it’s true, and while that one still stands UNLV has a chance to end a couple of trends this weekend at San Jose State.
The Rebels (3-5, 2-2) and Spartans (2-6, 1-3) kickoff at 7:32 p.m. Saturday in CEFCU Stadium with the game airing on CBS Sports Network. UNLV is looking to beat San Jose State for the first time since 1994 (0-6 since then) while also winning at least two road games for only the second time since 2003.
“It’s one of the big question marks,” Sanchez said. “Can we got out and win on the road?”
Traditionally at UNLV that answer has been no. Over the last 12 and a half seasons the Rebels are 9-67 away from home, and a third of those victories came in one year (2013).
But a week after the loss at San Diego State, the Rebels traveled to Hawaii and won at Aloha Stadium for the first time since 2000, snapping a four-game losing streak. Now they travel to face a San Jose State team that just lost 42-3 at San Diego State and suffered a 34-17 home loss to Hawaii earlier this season.
The Spartans allow the second most points (36.5 per game) and score the second fewest (22.2) in the Mountain West, and their only league victory was a 14-10 home decision against UNR. And one of UNLV’s biggest strengths, not allowing sacks, is a major San Jose State weakness as the Spartans allow more sacks per game (4.75) than the Rebels have allowed all season (four).
“I’m excited to see these guys go hunting a little bit,” Sanchez said of his defense.
The Rebels have only recorded one sack over the last two games but this could be a breakout game in that department. It’s also a bit of a homecoming game for senior middle linebacker Ryan McAleenan, who redshirted his freshman season at San Jose State.
Spartans coach Ron Caragher took over at the end of that year and McAleenan didn’t believe he’d get any playing time, so he transferred to College of the Canyons and then got connected to UNLV through former offensive linemen Pat Carroll and Brett Boyko.
“Everything happens for a reason,” McAleenan said in July.
Now he and senior linebacker Tau Lotulelei will try to lead UNLV’s defense past arguably its worst performance since the 44-21 loss at Central Michigan. Everything went so wrong so quickly for the Rebels in last week’s 42-23 loss to Colorado State, but they are again small favorites — UNLV minus-3 as of Thursday evening — because San Jose State has really struggled throughout the year and only two weeks ago the Rebels showed they can bounce back.
While the Colorado State loss certainly hurt, the Rebels still have the opportunity to increase their win total in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-03 while keeping alive the outside shot at a bowl game. UNLV’s mathematical chance to reach .500 would survive a loss to the Spartans but if you consider the Nov. 18 trip to undefeated Boise State a loss, as most would, then this is the Rebels last chance to make a stand, snap a streak or two and keep their postseason hopes alive.
“You’ve got to be careful talking too far down the road, but if you’re going to end up in a bowl game these are games you’re going to have to win,” Sanchez said. “We have four more opportunities and we need three of them.”