Gary Kazanjian / AP
Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 | 12:52 a.m.
Ninety-six yards stood between the UNLV football team’s backup quarterback and a comeback victory that could have sent the Rebels into their bye week with something to build on. But with no timeouts and less than two minutes on the clock, UNLV had to throw, and anyone familiar with the Rebels’ quarterback situation could predict how that situation would end no matter who’s throwing it.
UNLV lost 30-24 when Kurt Palandech overshot Andrew Price for a game-sealing interception, but effectively the Rebels dropped to 3-6 overall and 2-3 in Mountain West play by digging a 20-point hole that they know they’re not capable of escaping. San Jose State, which came in with a scoring defense and offense both ranked in the bottom 20 nationally, dominated the first half and then hung on for dear life against a UNLV team that has now been outscored 62-10 in its last two first halves.
“All week we stressed starting faster and we just didn’t come out and do that,” said senior linebacker Ryan McAleenan. “That really needs to be a point of emphasis going forward.”
San Jose State’s 339 first-half yards were as much or more than the Spartans accumulated in the entirety of six of their eight previous games. The Rebels also committed eight first-half penalties while converting only 1-of-8 third-down attempts, a combination of problems compounded by an injury to starting running back Lexington Thomas and ineffective play from starting quarterback Dalton Sneed.
Less than two weeks after saying he had no plans to use anyone besides Sneed, coach Tony Sanchez pulled the redshirt freshman and put in Palandech. Sneed was 1-of-8 for 14 yards in last week’s first half and Saturday night he was 2-of-9 for 24 yards with two sacks before getting the hook.
Palandech was only 0-for 2 on the year, but last season he completed 49.3 percent of his passes (75-of-152) with nine touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing for 293 yards. His game against the Spartans was a near-perfect replica of last season’s numbers, as he finished 10-of-21 passing with 161 yards and 44 rushing yards, including a big 16-yard touchdown run that brought UNLV within six with 5:19 remaining.
When UNLV’s offense ran on the field with 1:57 remaining, the PA system blasted “This is What You Came For” and the Rebels believed it. They were pinned inside their own 5-yard line with no timeouts left, but they had already come back from down 30-10 so why not finish it off?
“We felt we could win that game,” Palandech said.
And with a couple of timeouts, maybe they could have. But Palandech has never been trusted to go long without putting a ball in jeopardy, and on his seventh attempt of the drive Palandech aired the ball over an open Price into defensive back Trevon Bierria’s arms at the Spartans' 14-yard line.
“We hit him and we’ve got a couple more plays left,” Sanchez said. “… It’s an errant ball but we wouldn’t have been back there without (Palandech) playing well in the second half.”
It’s not like things were really solidified, but this game ensures that the Rebels will be uncertain about the quarterback spot for the rest of the season. The bye week gives them more time to evaluate junior Johnny Stanton’s health, but his knee won’t be 100 percent until he gets another procedure after the season so Stanton’s probably only an option for a limited number of plays.
“He’s just not very mobile and part of the reason we were able to come back tonight was Kurt being mobile,” Sanchez said. “It’s a combination of where we are receiver-wise and where we are quarterback-wise, I mean it’s going to be a struggle throughout. You see it out there.”
There’s no hiding it. UNLV’s three quarterbacks have thrown nine interceptions while combining to complete 45.4 percent of their passes. Pair that with a defense that has allowed at least 30 points in six games this year and you have a bad mix for a team that expected to at least take an incremental step forward this season.
Maybe that can still happen by keeping the Fremont Cannon in the season-ending game against UNR, but that’s pretty much the only realistic goal left for UNLV. The Rebels still don’t have answers at quarterback or in the secondary, and as the calendar flips to November it’s past the point of expecting them to find any.
Thomas left the game with a high-ankle sprain after rushing for 18 yards on five carries. Sanchez said Thomas would be evaluated further but he was hopeful that it wouldn’t be a long-term injury.
Also, sophomore defensive back Tim Hough suffered a concussion and was taken off the field on a stretcher. Sanchez didn’t have any updates on his condition postgame.