Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Published Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018 | 5:18 p.m.
For the second straight week, UNLV allowed an opponent to cross the 50-point barrier as Utah State cruised to a 59-28 win.
Utah State racked up 598 yards of total offense, and quarterback Jordan Love threw for 322 yards and five touchdowns before being pulled early in the fourth quarter. The Aggies scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives at one point, and they averaged 8.7 yards per play for the game.
UNLV again struggled to run the ball without starting QB Armani Rogers. The Rebels managed just 3.6 yards per carry (46 carries, 167 yards), and leading rusher Lexington Thomas picked up just 51 yards before an injury forced him out of the game in the third quarter.
The blowout loss drops UNLV to 2-4 on the season, with a homecoming matchup against Air Force set for Friday.
UNLV trails Utah State 49-14 at end of third quarter
Max Gilliam threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Darren Woods midway through the third quarter, but Jordan Love answered with his fifth TD pass of the game and Utah State has a 49-14 lead as we enter the fourth.
Gilliam is now 13-of-24 for 115 yards, with one touchdown and one interception; Love is 17-of-23 for 322 yards and five TDs, which ties a Utah State record for touchdown passes in a single game.
Once a game gets out of hand like this, the hope is always to get out of town healthy, but the Rebels' fortune didn't even extend that far. Lexington Thomas took a blow to the helmet early in the third quarter and had to be helped off the field. His health situation will probably have to be monitored next week.
Utah State leads UNLV 42-7 at halftime
Utah State tacked on another touchdown 18 second before the half, and UNLV trails 42-7 at the break.
Jordan Love threw his fourth touchdown pass of the half, this time to Ron'quavion Tarver for a 7-yard score, to cap the 2-minute drill. The Aggies scored touchdowns on their final six drives of the half.
UNLV failed to get anything going on offense after Lexington Thomas's first-quarter touchdown run. The Rebels have run for 122 yards on 24 carries as a team, but the threat of the big play has allowed Utah State to play for third down and make timely stops. Thomas leads the Rebels with 49 yards on 11 carries.
With the outcome no longer in doubt, the second half will be about UNLV's heart. Can the Rebels continue to play hard despite being blown out for the second straight week?
UNLV down 35-7 at Utah State
Utah State has blown this game opened, and it happened in a flash.
The Aggies have scored on their last five possessions, including a punt block that was returned for a TD, and now lead 35-7 midway through the second quarter.
Jordan Love has thrown for 237 yards and three touchdowns, and Utah State has racked up 285 yards of total offense on just 27 plays. The last five scoring drives have consisted of just 17 plays from scrimmage.
UNLV has not been able to stop the bleeding. Max Gilliam threw an interception in Rebels territory, which led to a USU touchdown two plays later. Gilliam is now 9-of-15 for 63 yards.
Despite the Rebels' encouraging start, this game has turned suddenly and decisively.
Utah State leads UNLV, 14-7
Utah State responded immediately after UNLV's touchdown, and the Aggies now have a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After Lexington Thomas gave UNLV a 7-0 lead, USU quarterback Jordan Love led the Aggies on an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to tie the game, 7-7. UNLV punted on its ensuing possession, and Love struck again. The UNLV defense jumped offsides on a 2nd-and-10 play, and the defensive backfield let up, anticipating a whistle. Love took advantage of the free play and hit Jalen Greene for an easy 80-yard touchdown to make it 14-7.
Utah State racked up 216 total yards in the first quarter.
UNLV takes early lead at Utah State
Midway through the first quarter, it looks like UNLV has come to play today.
Lexington Thomas just plunged in from the 1-yard line to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead with 5:38 left in the first quarter. Thomas's TD capped off an eight-play, 57-yard drive that saw Max Gilliam convert on a pair of third-down passes. Against New Mexico last week, UNLV didn't pick up a first down until the end of the second quarter.
Thomas has 25 yards on four carries, while Gilliam is 4-of-7 for 53 yards.
UNLV caught a break on the game's opening possession. Utah State used a quick-huddle offense to drive inside the 15 in just four plays, but the Rebels defense held from there, stuffing two runs and breaking up a third-down pass in the end zone to force a field-goal attempt. The 27-yard kick missed to the right.
Previewing UNLV football at Utah State with reader questions
One week after a devastating 50-14 home loss to New Mexico, the Rebels find themselves with a 2-3 record and heading to Utah to take on perhaps the hottest team in the Mountain West. Can UNLV get its act together and hang with Utah State on Saturday (1 p.m., streaming on Facebook)?
Let's preview the Utah State matchup with reader questions:
Talk about the offense getting back up off the canvas after last week
The Rebels' defense gave up 50 points to New Mexico last week, but I think the offense needs to take most of the blame. It was a 15-0 game late in the second quarter, but UNLV simply couldn't move the ball, as the Max Gilliam-led offense went 3-and-out on its first six possessions. The defense held things together for 25 minutes or so, but eventually the dam broke, and New Mexico struck with two long touchdown passes in the final minutes of the half to turn a two-score game into a demoralizing blowout. For the game, New Mexico enjoyed a time-of-possession advantage of 36:48 to 23:12. It's nearly impossible for any defense to thrive in those circumstances.
UNLV absolutely has to control the ball better against Utah State. The Aggies are averaging 50.2 points per game, and if UNLV gives them 36 minutes of possession time, they might put up 60 points on Saturday. For the Rebels, there has to be an emphasis on picking up first downs early in the game. A string of 3-and-outs in the first quarter could lead to a 14-0 deficit (or 17-0, or 21-0, or worse). Look for the Rebels to give the ball to Lexington Thomas way more than they did last week (six carries, 36 yards) in an effort to keep Gilliam out of 3rd-and-long situations. It sounds like an extremely basic approach to offense, but after what we saw against New Mexico, I'm not sure UNLV can afford to make things complicated.
Who will Coach Sanchez throw under the bus in his next post game?
This question is referring to Tony Sanchez's postgame comments after the New Mexico loss, in which he said Thomas didn't run hard enough and criticized punt returner Mekhi Stevenson for not properly fielding a fair catch. Calling out players by name in the media is a risky proposition. Sometimes it inspires the team to prove they have some fight in them, but oftentimes it backfires. Thomas handled it well, but the problem is, a coach can only go to that well so many times. Once is usually the limit, and Sanchez just played that card. If the Rebels lose badly at Utah State, Sanchez can't torch his players again or he'll risk losing the locker room for good. Navigating the next couple weeks will be tricky, and Sanchez's leadership will be tested.
Talk about the UNLV receivers and what they need to do to help Gilliam out. Seems like not much last game.
Gilliam is at his best when he's throwing at or behind the line of scrimmage. That's where he lived when he was having success at the junior college level and that's where he's comfortable. UNLV tried to run some plays like that against New Mexico, but the quick screens and hitches on the perimeter went nowhere. The Rebels need at least one receiver to step up and prove capable of running after the catch, and the coaches need to incorporate more plays that are designed to get the ball to playmakers in open space.
The issue is, the UNLV offense isn't built like that, and the coaches haven't recruited to that style. Most of UNLV's receivers are big-bodied, straight-line receivers, not wriggly jump-cut guys. And the offensive line has been built for power run-blocking in the trenches, not sprinting out in front of wide-receiver screens and sealing off defensive backs. It's going to take a yeoman's effort from the coaching staff to retool the system around Gilliam's strengths. If they don't, we'll see more offensive no-shows like the New Mexico game.
When will the high school experiment end?
This question is referring to Sanchez, who made the jump from high school coach to Division I head coach when UNLV hired him four years ago. He signed an extension through the 2021 season less than a year ago, but that was handed out by the previous athletic director. Now Sanchez is working under Desiree Reed-Francois, an AD who didn't hire him, and the team is currently lagging behind pace for a bowl berth. A second straight season of coming up short despite a bowl-caliber roster would leave Sanchez with some explaining to do.
UNLV isn't swimming in money, so cutting Sanchez loose with three years left on his contract is not the desired outcome. But given what happened last week against New Mexico, and what it may portend for the rest of the season, the clock may have just started ticking. Look for Sanchez to start the 2019 season on the hot seat.
Talk about dissolving the football program and focusing on basketball
UNLV is a basketball school at a time when football drives all the money in Division I, and that puts the Rebels in an interesting position. There is a segment of the fan base that looks at the football program's historical record and advocates for dropping down to DII in that sport (or eliminating it altogether), but with the team set to move into the new Raiders Stadium in 2020, there's little chance of that happening in the near future.
Besides, the school just hired Reed-Francois, whose claim to fame was spending the last four years (before UNLV) running the Virginia Tech football program. She hasn't even gotten an opportunity to select a coach yet. Give her a chance to turn things around before dissolving the program.
Talk about how losing Rogers has affected the rushing game
Armani Rogers is an elite runner at the quarterback position, and without that threat behind center, UNLV has struggled in the rushing game. In the 13 games that Rogers started over the last two years, Lexington Thomas has run for 1,536 yards on 230 carries (6.7 yards per carry); in the four games Rogers has not started due to injury, Thomas has carried it 66 times for 305 yards (4.6 yards per carry). Now, 4.6 yards per carry is not a bad average, but a drop of 2.1 yards per carry is hugely significant.
It boils down to earning the respect of the defense. On read-option running plays with Rogers at QB, the defense has to respect his ability to pull the ball back, pivot and take off in the opposite direction. Without that threat, defenders can fire off in the direction of Thomas and arrive at the point of attack a split-second sooner. That fraction of a second is important, because Thomas can cover a lot of ground in that time. The Rebels need to make defenses respect the quarterback as a threat to do something, whether it's running the ball or completing passes. Without that threat, UNLV is playing 10-on-11 in the running game, and not even Thomas can make that work as a long-term strategy.
Talk about those prices at the concessions stands, right!? Which MWC venue offers the best value for their game day meals?
I've eaten at every basketball venue but only some football venues. Still, I'm something of a connoisseur when it comes to stadium food, and this conference runs the gamut: San Diego State basketball has a nice concourse setup, a Utah State basketball concession-stand burger made me sick, Fresno State's football stadium has pretty good jumbo hot dogs, and San Jose State's basketball arena only has two concessions stands (and last time I was there, they were out of order due to a campus-wide blackout). Last week I sampled the chicken fingers and fries at Sam Boyd Stadium and was pleasantly surprised.
The prices are what they are. You're not going to a stadium to get a deal on concessions, unless it's something like UNLV's "Eat All You Can Plan." That's probably next on my list.