Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The Rebels looked awful in Saturday's 44-21 loss at Central Michigan, but the schedule eases up with home games against Idaho and Fresno State, and many of the problems will likely be fixed as a result. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss any possible changes UNLV should make to compete in the Mountain West, including what to do at quarterback.
Receivers and quarterbacks were the last ones on the field following Wednesday’s UNLV practice at Rebel Park. After two weeks of errant throws compounded by dropped passes, they all wanted some extra time to try to get the passing game moving forward.
“Working together and getting that rhythm that we need every game, day in and day out,” said junior receiver Devonte Boyd.
A lot went wrong for UNLV in last week’s 44-21 loss at Central Michigan, but after the game coach Tony Sanchez was most disappointed in an “anemic” offense that didn’t give the Rebels any real chances in the second half. That will be a major focus as UNLV (1-2) returns home Saturday to face Idaho (1-2) at 6 p.m. in Sam Boyd Stadium with the game streaming on UNLVRebels.com, Mountain West Network and on Twitter.
The blown defensive assignments that granted Chippewas receivers oodles of space are closer to one-time gaffes than systemic issues, and a lot of problems on that side of the ball might get cleared up once the Rebels stop facing pro-caliber quarterbacks. But on offense, the run-first attack averaged only 2.6 yards per carry outside of one long touchdown in part because there was no real threat through the air.
Junior quarterback Johnny Stanton finished 15-of-41, and in two games against Division I competition he’s 26-of-69 with four interceptions. Even when some passes have been on target, though, receivers aren’t hauling them in, which is how Boyd ended up without a catch for the first time in his collegiate career.
“When you’re the lone older guy, you’ve got to do a little bit more to put people on your back,” Sanchez said of Boyd, who has had at least four drops over the last two weeks. “… Collectively we just didn’t play real well in the receiving corps and quarterback spot, so like everyone else, he has got to go back to work and be more focused.”
Boyd said he couldn’t remember ever having back-to-back games like this where he struggled to see the ball into his hands. Both Boyd and Sanchez, who played receiver in college, called it a focus problem, and Boyd said no matter where the ball is placed it’s his job to bring it in.
“I’ve seen people miss wide-open passes when the ball’s on the money. I’ve missed wide-open passes when he threw the ball right there in my hands,” Boyd said. “There’s always pressure but we have to make a play for Johnny. No matter where the ball is, we’re trying to make a play for him.”
Some of the problems could be attributed to youth in a receiving depth chart that, because of injuries to sophomore Brandon Presley and junior Kendal Keys, features Boyd and three freshmen. The offense’s overall inexperience has shown up in other areas, too, according to senior center Will Kreitler.
“There were a couple things that we worked on in practice, and when they showed up in the game at times it was like we had never even seen it before,” Kreitler said.
But youth is an excuse that’s less reasonable as the season wears on, and Sanchez pointed out that it also doesn’t really hold up when the older guys like Boyd are making the same mistakes. Instead, the focus is on doing whatever they can to fix the problem, which for now doesn’t include a change at quarterback.
Sanchez said junior Kurt Palandech is now healthy enough to be the backup but there are not immediate plans to put him or freshman Dalton Sneed in for Stanton. It’s up to Stanton to put the throws on target, the receivers to catch them (thus creating some breathing room for the running game) and the entire team to make sure that last week was a blip rather than a sign of major problems.
“We have a great opportunity to get right back to .500 and get ready to go into conference,” Sanchez said. “… There are a lot of really good opportunities sitting right in front of us right now. We need to really focus on this and this is a game you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to win.”