Rebels aiming for better red zone production against Idaho

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV running back Lexington Thomas gets over the goal line during their game against Howard University Saturday, September 2, 2017, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Howard defeated UNLV 43-40 to notch what is believed to be the biggest upset in college football history.

In order to win games this season, UNLV’s offense is going to have to be perfect. Tony Sanchez conceded that point before the season, acknowledging that he couldn’t see the Rebels winning “a lot of 17-14 games.”

In Week 1, the unit was good, putting up 40 points on 15 drives against Howard. But they weren’t perfect, and that was the difference in the 43-40 loss.

Wild shotgun snaps, delay-of-game penalties, turnovers and other assorted miscues cost the Rebels too many points, and the team understands that they’ll need to clean up those mental mistakes if they want to have any chance of resurrecting their season with a win at Idaho on Saturday.

Sanchez said that was a major theme in practice this week as the Rebels prepared for Idaho.

“It was addressed in the film session on Monday night,” Sanchez said. “And then on the field, you can’t let anything go. Anything that happens at all, you’ve got to address it. We had a deal [Tuesday] where we had one false start and we immediately stopped the practice and said to everyone on the line, ‘Let’s go.’”

The most surefire way to increase production would be by cutting down on mistakes in the red zone. UNLV was inefficient inside the opponent’s 25-yard-line in Week 1, as the Rebels committed an astounding five false-start penalties in that area of the field. Those penalties caused four separate drives to stall, as UNLV settled for just nine combined points on those possessions.

Senior left tackle Kyle Saxelid, who was flagged for one false start against Howard, said the offensive line will need to show better focus in the red zone in order to wipe out unforced pre-snap penalties.

“Lack of focus down there is what it is,” Saxelid said. “Sometimes you may not be able to hear a quarterback’s snap count, but you’ve just got to be able to focus on the things you’re supposed to be doing, not get too antsy and have confidence in what you’re doing. If you get up there and you don’t know what’s going on as much because you didn’t study enough film, or you didn’t prepare yourself, you’re going to be antsy and you’re going to make a mistake.”

Saxelid also wants to see the line open bigger holes for UNLV’s running backs around the goal line. UNLV ran the ball 11 times inside the Howard 10-yard-line and produced 2.1 yards per carry (the average was brought down by a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs), including three plays of zero or negative yards.

“Things are more condensed down in the red zone,” Saxelid said. “[The defense] is coming off the ball a little bit harder because there’s a for-sure gap right there, and not as many reads to go through. You’ll notice when you get down in the red zone, especially in those last 10 yards, things just get more condensed. Your playbook goes down. You only got a couple plays you can run and it’s just a mass of bodies and there’s not enough space to work with.”

UNLV “held” the Vandals to 33 points in an overtime loss last year, and Idaho only managed 28 points in a win over Sacramento State last week. But with the way the UNLV defense played in Week 1, there’s a good chance Idaho tops those point totals on Saturday.

That means the UNLV offense will have to be operate at full capacity in order to keep up. Good won’t be good enough – the Rebels need perfection.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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