Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 | 8:06 p.m.
Late in the second quarter of UNLV’s game at San Jose State on Saturday, head coach Tony Sanchez decided to take a chance. He put his faith in the Rebels defense to get a stop, and he got burned.
It was just one short sequence in UNLV’s sobering 50-37 loss, but it illustrated everything that is going wrong for the Rebels in what is quickly becoming a lost season (2-6, 0-4 in Mountain West play).
Leading 21-17 with less than two minutes remaining in the half after a Max Gilliam touchdown pass to Tyleek Collins, the Rebels were looking good. And when they forced San Jose State into a 3rd-and-8 situation at the SJSU 40 with 1:02 on the clock, Sanchez made his move. He called a timeout to stop the clock, believing that the Rebels could get the third-down stop, force a punt, and give their offense another possession before the end of the half.
Instead, San Jose State quarterback Josh Love completed a 22-yard pass to move the chains, then hit Tre Walker down the sideline a few plays later for a 37-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left. Goodbye, momentum.
It was one of many breakdowns in the secondary against San Jose State, as Love passed for a season-high 335 yards and four touchdowns. After giving up the back-breaking touchdown before the half, UNLV allowed SJSU to take the opening kick of the second half and march 75 yards for another touchdown (a 1-yard toss by Love).
That put San Jose State up, 31-21, and the Rebels never got within a single score again.
After the game, Sanchez pointed to that series of events as a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong for UNLV during its current four-game losing streak, a span in which the Rebels have allowed three out of four opponents to hang 50 points on the board.
“We were kind of hot [on offense],” Sanchez reasoned. “We knew it’d be one of those games where we’d have to steal a possession back. They end up turning it into a touchdown. That’s a big, big deal. I’m just really disappointed. Kind of at a loss right now.”
The entire program seems to be at a loss without injured quarterback Armani Rogers. A week after showing improvement in his third career start, sophomore fill-in QB Max Gilliam was intercepted three times, including one that was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the game. The Rebels are 0-4 without Rogers, who will likely be out for at least two more weeks.
The defeat was especially bitter considering the opponent. San Jose State came into the game winless (0-7 overall, 0-3 MWC), but looked like the superior team in every aspect. The Spartans averaged an anemic 52.0 rushing yards per game coming in, but tore through the UNLV run defense for 157 yards on 40 carries. And SJSU’s 349 passing yards were nearly 100 more than their season average (255.4).
With injuries thinning out the secondary, Sanchez said the Rebels simply didn’t have enough athleticism to compete with San Jose State’s passing game.
“This week, it was just being out-athleted,” he said. “We’ve got to make plays. So many times on third downs, we had guys who were right there on the hip, not able to make a play on the ball. We had safeties not getting over there in time to help them out…Those are critical things we need to address. Some of it is addressed through coaching, some of it is addressed through recruiting.”
The lone bright spot for UNLV was the play of Collins, who is establishing himself as a star player in the making. He caught seven passes on the day for 170 yards and four touchdowns, including a 75-yard bomb and a ridiculous 46-yard catch-and-run that saw him juke through half of the San Jose State defense on his way to the end zone.
But in between Collins’ explosive plays, the UNLV defense could not do enough to contain or even slow down one of the worst offenses in the country. And now the Rebels appear to be alone at the bottom of the Mountain West.