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UNLV football still has ‘whole lot to play for’

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez leaves the field with players after a 3-48 loss to Fresno State Bulldogs at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

The Rebel Room

Crashing mics, coaching changes and championing Clyburn

Ray Brewer, Mike Grimala and Case Keefer go over UNLV football and basketball after a trying weekend for both programs.

UNLV’s stated goal entering the season was to play in a bowl game. Everyone, from the coaches to the players to the ball boys, seemed to agree that the Rebels had enough talent, experience and motivation to make it happen. It was a singular drive.

Now it’s unattainable. Last week’s loss to Fresno State dropped UNLV’s record to 2-7, officially eliminating the team from bowl eligibility. So now what?

With no tangible end-of-season reward awaiting the Rebels, the final three games of the season will be about the players proving something to themselves.

On Monday, junior linebacker Javin White said the Rebels will draw on their internal motivation and continue to give max effort the rest of the way.

“For us, it’s just go fight,” White said. “Every Saturday you get to go play a college football game, so that’s just encouragement. Regardless of the score last week, you have a new week every week, and it’s just about going out, fighting, competing and doing what you love. And that’s football.”

If UNLV is lacking in motivation on Saturday, it will be obvious against a San Diego State team that is still fighting for a spot in the Mountain West championship game. The Aztecs (7-2, 4-1 MWC) have battled through injuries all season and will show no mercy against an opponent that has mentally checked out for the season.

White said that won’t happen to the Rebels, and he credited the coaching staff — led by head coach Tony Sanchez — for setting that tone.

“The players are always looking to coaches,” White said. “Our coaches are always upbeat. Especially with coach Sanchez, he comes in with the same energy every day. That’s the best thing about being with coach Sanchez … He can be very disappointed in us, but he’s never going to show it.”

Being eliminated from bowl contention won’t change how Sanchez prepares for the final three games, and it won’t change the way he coaches. While some coaches might prefer to play younger athletes in a situation like this in order to build for next year, Sanchez said the Rebels are committed to trying to win now.

“I’ve never really believed in that,” Sanchez said. “I really believe you have a senior class that deserves that you focus on them and this team and them finishing strong. Those guys have bled for this program. They’ve created more change over the last couple years than has happened here in a long time.”

“Young guys have gotten in throughout the course of the year and that will continue to happen,” he continued, “but it won’t be, ‘Hey, let’s talk about next year.’ We’ve got three great opportunities in front of us … There’s a whole lot to play for right now.”

Rogers still not 100 percent

Sanchez said sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers is moving around better in practice, but that he’s still not 100 percent recovered from the foot injury that has forced him to miss the last six games.

Rogers dressed for Saturday’s loss to Fresno State but did not see any game action. When starter Max Gilliam was pulled late in the 48-3 defeat, it was freshman Kenyon Oblad who subbed in for mop-up duty.

“He went out there today and moved around and looked pretty good,” Sanchez said. “He wasn’t overly comfortable with it on Saturday, that’s one of the reasons you didn’t see him on Saturday. He’s got to believe that he can go and feel comfortable with it. He’ll be the judge of that and communicate with the medical staff. I’m just waiting for the thumbs up.”

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

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