Roger Hagerman / The Morning Sun via AP
Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 | 5:59 p.m.
UNLV announced a $10 million donation from the Fertitta family towards a new football facility that's expected to be completed by next fall. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss what that means for the program and also look ahead to this weekend's game at Central Michigan.
Sometimes, the saying goes, a player can be too open. Running completely free in the secondary gives a guy too much time to think about the play he’s obviously going to make, and he drops it.
UNLV’s defensive backs unintentionally tested this theory several times at Central Michigan, and the results were some of the easiest catches of the Chippewas’ careers. And yet, that might not even be the most disappointing part of an all-around-awful Rebels performance in a 44-21 loss Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
“The defense gave us opportunities; the offense just did nothing to help our chance to win,” said second-year UNLV coach Tony Sanchez. “And you know what? That’s on me. That’s on me 100 percent; I’ll take full blame for all this preparedness.”
The Rebels’ secondary had multiple miscommunications that left receivers wide open for touchdowns, but the defense also started the second half with a pair of three-and-outs that gave the offense a chance to do something in a seven-point game. Instead, UNLV managed only three first downs over its first six second-half drives, and the game was effectively over early in the fourth quarter.
“Second half was really, really anemic,” Sanchez said.
While Central Michigan’s fifth-year quarterback, Cooper Rush, went 20-of-33 for 353 yards and a stadium-record six touchdowns, UNLV junior quarterback Johnny Stanton showed the same struggles as last week at UCLA. Between wayward passes and dropped balls Stanton finished 15-of-41 with a score and two interceptions, making him 26-of-69 with four picks in UNLV’s two road losses.
“Frustrating is an understatement,” Stanton said. “… There’s a point in every season where a switch kinda flips. Hopefully this is the game that does it.”
Penalties didn’t kill UNLV, but they certainly contributed to the overall sloppy play, and they’re really starting to pile up. The Rebels had nine penalties for 94 yards, giving them 24 on the season, and the first-half absence of safety Kenny Keys, who was serving a suspension for a targeting penalty last week, didn’t help matters.
Then there was junior receiver Devonte Boyd, the Rebels’ best player, going without a catch for the first time in his career. If that happened as a result of others making plays, it wouldn’t be a problem, but a combination of drops and bad passes is a concern.
“Even his drops I didn’t throw well,” Stanton said. “I don’t put that on him; I put that totally on myself.”
This was truly a team loss, because when Stanton was on target the receivers often dropped balls. And other than sophomore Lexington Thomas’ 85-yard touchdown in the second quarter, UNLV averaged 2.6 yards per carry (37 for 97).
On top of all that, UNLV’s first-quarter blocked punt for a touchdown got covered up by the special teams’ errors that followed, including penalties, bad return decisions and poor kicks. All in all it was one of the worst performances under Sanchez, because they rarely presented much of a threat to a Chippewas squad that looked comfortable all day.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said senior linebacker Ryan McAleenan.
Said Sanchez, “I feel like we didn’t compete real hard at times.”
Even in defeats, Sanchez has usually felt like his team kept playing until the end. That didn’t seem like the case Saturday, exemplified by Stanton floating a ball about 10 yards past a wide-open Andrew Price on UNLV’s final offensive play.
“The thing that stinks is when you’ve got a quarterback that’s trying to find himself and you have that many dropped balls, it sets him off,” Sanchez said. “However, having said that, he wasn’t real accurate. A lot of those balls could have been caught but they were behind guys, receivers were trying to stop as they’re crossing the field and things like that. Even that last play at the end, have some pride and hit the wide-open guy.”
The schedule gets better from here, with Idaho at home next week and a very middling-to-awful Mountain West on tap after that. The league will offer a lot of opportunities for wins, but at this point the Rebels might not be any better equipped than they were last year to go out and take them.