October 20, 2018 Currently: 81° | Complete forecast

Live blog: Rebels routed by New Mexico, 50-14

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV running back Lexington Thomas gets a big hole against UTEP Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Updated Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 | 3:58 p.m.

The Rebel Room

Two-sport casting

For the first time this year, the Rebel Room spends roughly equal time on UNLV's two major sports teams. Ray Brewer, Mike Grimala and Case Keefer first discuss the football team's Mountain West Conference opener against New Mexico before getting into the prospects of basketball season.

If Max Gilliam is going to remain UNLV's quarterback for five more weeks, the Rebels will have to figure out some things on offense — quickly.

Gilliam looked shaky from the opening snap, and the Rebels' offense went nowhere in a 50-14 home loss to New Mexico. UNLV fell to 2-3 with the defeat. 

At one point, after a Zahneer Shuler touchdown run put New Mexico up 50-7 in the fourth quarter, the Lobos had scored seven touchdowns while UNLV had gained just six first downs. For the game, New Mexico out-gained UNLV, 502 yards to 166. 

Next on the schedule for UNLV is a difficult matchup at Utah State next week. The Aggies are 5-1 and averaging 50.2 points per game after trouncing BYU by a score of 45-20 on Saturday. 

New Mexico extends lead over UNLV to 36-0

Nothing is going right for UNLV, which now trails New Mexico, 36-0, with 2:25 left in the third quarter.

Javin White returned a fumble for a touchdown early in the half, but the play was called back and blown dead at the spot of the recovery upon video review; on the ensuing possession, the UNLV offense did nothing and was forced to punt. New Mexico then marched the length of the field, with Sheriron Jones throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-12.

Max Gilliam is still in at quarterback for the Rebels, despite a passing line of 8-of-16 for 23 yards.

UNLV down 29-0 to New Mexico at halftime

Sheriron Jones threw two long touchdown passes on New Mexico's final two drives of the half, and the Lobos now have a commanding 29-0 lead over UNLV at the break.

The Rebels' offense was nonexistent through the first 30 minutes, picking up just one first down and averaging just 1.0 yards per play. Sophomore quarterback Max Gilliam completed 6-of-13 passes for 23 yards with one interception, and Lexington Thomas ran the ball just three times for seven yards.

Getting blown out at home by New Mexico would be a disastrous turn of events for UNLV, which came into the season with bowl hopes. But with the offense struggling to string together positive plays, a comeback appears to be the longest of long shots.

Rebels trail New Mexico, 15-0

New Mexico just tacked on a 43-yard field goal (with help from the wind), and the Lobos now lead 15-0 with four minutes left in the half.

UNLV has run just 14 offensive plays and held the ball for just 6:36 so far in the half, and the Rebels have yet to record a first down. Sophomore quarterback Max Gilliam has been shaky in his first start, completing 5-of-11 passes for just 12 yards.

New Mexico has had some success running the ball (121 yards on 34 carries), but the UNLV defense has done yeoman's work to keep the Rebels in this game.

New Mexico takes 7-0 lead over UNLV

Max Gilliam's first start hasn't gone the way he or his UNLV coaches and teammates had hoped. The sophomore was intercepted on a pass over the middle on the Rebels' last drive, and UNM linebacker Evahelotu Tohi returned it inside the UNLV 20-yard line. Five plays later, Zahneer Shuler scored on a 1-yard run to give the Lobos a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter. The extra point was blocked.

UNLV has done nothing with its first three offensive possessions. The coaching staff will have to figure out a way to move the ball with Gilliam, because a loss to New Mexico would be one of the worst possible results on the entire schedule.

UNLV, New Mexico scoreless in first quarter

The UNLV offense has sputtered so far with Max Gilliam at the helm, with two 3-and-outs on the first two drives, and the Rebels are in a scoreless battle with New Mexico midway through the first quarter.

Gilliam has completed 1-of-3 passes for just three yards, and a fumbled snap short-circuited the Rebels' first possession. Lexington Thomas has one carry for two yards.

The defense has looked strong in the early going, forcing punts on each of New Mexico's first two possessions. With 4:35 left in the first half, New Mexico is facing a 3rd-and-long on its 42-yard line.

UNLV football vs. New Mexico

Max Gilliam is the big story today, but he isn't the only new face in the lineup for the Rebels. UNLV is also making a change on its return teams, as Brandon Presley is being replaced on kick and punt returns by Evan Owens (kickoffs) and Mekhi Stevenson (punts). Presley had mishandled returns in three consecutive games, leading to head coach Tony Sanchez making the move during the bye week.

UNLV hasn't gotten much out of its return game under Sanchez, so he is probably just hoping for a turnover-free performance from Owens and Stevenson.

Bowl odds, Gilliam(s) and tacos: Previewing UNLV vs. New Mexico with reader questions

The UNLV football team will have a different look when it takes the field on Saturday for the Mountain West opener against New Mexico (1 p.m., AT&T SportsNet). With starting quarterback Armani Rogers out with a foot injury, it will be sophomore Max Gilliam under center, and he is an entirely different type of QB.

Can the Rebels still compete — and win — with Gilliam at the controls? That was the big topic of conversation this week when we solicited reader questions via social media:

@highflyingrebel

What are your odds on UNLV making a Bowl game? If they don’t, where does that put Sanchez WRT being on the “hot seat”?

@MikeGrimala

Had Armani Rogers stayed healthy for the entire season, I would have put UNLV’s chances north of 50 percent. With sophomore backup Max Gilliam set to start the next six games, that percentage goes down, but it’s greater than zero.

I think Gilliam has enough ability to play the position effectively if the coaching staff manages him and respects his limitations. With UNLV’s strong running game, Gilliam shouldn’t have to carry the load.

The Rebels’ best friend over the next six weeks, however, will be the schedule. Three of the next four games (vs. New Mexico, vs. Air Force, at San Jose State) are still extremely winnable, even if Gilliam struggles to replace all of Rogers’ production. Win two of those three, and the Rebels can stay in the bowl hunt until Rogers’ tentative return in Week 11.

As for Sanchez, I don’t think the quarterback situation changes the expectations for this season at all. The Rebels choose to run an offense that opens up the QB to a lot of punishment, and injuries are almost a given. Gilliam should be able to keep the team afloat for the time being, so the benchmark for success this season remains the same — bowl game or bust.

@Zmoreimi

With Rogers being out and the rushing game taking a hit, how much will gilliam have to produce in the passing game to alleviate the loss the rushing game will take?

@MikeGrimala

I would advise against judging Gilliam by raw statistics, such as passing yards or touchdowns. If things go according to plan for the Rebels, they won’t ask him to throw the ball all over the field. This is still a run-first team that will rely on the offensive line and Lexington Thomas to dominate on that side of the ball.

Gilliam’s job will be to keep the chains moving when asked. That means picking up first downs via the pass in order to extend drives. Timely completions will be critical. UNLV was basically getting nothing out of the third-down passing game with Rogers at the helm, so if Gilliam can convert just a few per game, that’s already a step in the right direction.

@gerontophile

Give me a reason (other than locality) why I should support @UNLVfootball . I am not a Vegas, nor US, native.

@MikeGrimala

Geography is the most common reason why people root for sports teams; they either root for the local team where they grew up, or the college team where they went to school. Since location doesn’t apply to you, maybe watch a few games and see if you develop an affinity for a particular player?

Senior running back Lexington Thomas is an electrifying ball-carrier and a threat to score a long touchdown every time he touches the ball. And though he’s injured at the moment, quarterback Armani Rogers is one of the biggest, fastest quarterbacks in the country, and you might enjoy watching him run over smaller defenders.

Sam Boyd Stadium doesn’t have the kind of game-day atmosphere that could get a novice hooked on the sport, so your options are kind of limited. But until the Raiders get here in 2020, the Rebels are the only game in town when it comes to football.

@brainCarter

Does Max Gilliam known who Armen Gilliam is?

@MikeGrimala

Given that Armen’s playing career ended in 2000, and Max was around 2 years old at the time, I’m going to guess that no, he is not aware that he shares a name with a former UNLV great. But if Max surprises everyone by guiding the Rebels to a 6-0 record and becomes the toast of the town, I’m sure someone will let him know that he’s still only No. 2 in the Gilliam rankings.

@brainCarter

Talk about UNLV coaching staff’s ability to evaluate the quarterback posistion.

@MikeGrimala

I wouldn’t usually let the same person ask two questions in a row, but since you used my preferred “talk about” phrasing, I’ll allow it.

I think the quarterback position is one spot that has been upgraded tremendously over the past couple years. In 2015 (Tony Sanchez’s first season as coach), the Rebels had Blake Decker at No. 1 QB and Kurt Palendech at No. 2. Both players were grinders, but the talent level was low.

Now, Armani Rogers is maybe the most talented player the school has recruited in decades. His physical gifts are obvious, even if he hasn’t put it all together and become a refined passer yet. And behind him on the depth chart is Gilliam, a sophomore who was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school. I think that’s a big improvement over previous quarterback depth charts.

And even going beyond the first and second string, the No. 3 guy is freshman Kenyon Oblad, the state of Nevada’s all-time leading prep passer and a guy who looked so good in spring practice that some fans are calling for him to take over as the starter right now.

I’d say the coaching staff has done a good job of evaluating the position and getting good, talented players to come to UNLV. The next step will be coaching them up to the point where performance matches pedigree. So far, that hasn’t happened.

@Jermcon

it's national taco day. what spot are you hitting?

@MikeGrimala

I’m not a taco guy. I tried one a couple years ago and it was underwhelming. But if forced to celebrate taco day, I would go to Taco Bell, order one of those tacos that has a Doritos shell, empty it out, throw away the fillings, break up the shell and put it in a bag. The end product would look like this and I would eat that and enjoy it.

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

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