Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Published Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 | 6:10 p.m.
Just when you thought the Rebels' season was dead, they go into Vanderbilt and score a 34-10 road win to keep their bowl dreams alive.
The running game and an opportunistic defense were the key forces behind the victory, as UNLV ran for 206 yards and forced three turnovers in securing their first win over a Power 5 opponent since 2008.
Chad Magyar led the ground attack with 116 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, and freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad connected on 11-of-16 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
UNLV improves to 2-4 on the season; the Rebels will next head to Fresno State for a Friday night date.
UNLV takes commanding 34-10 lead over Vanderbilt
The Rebels are going to be Vanderbilt, and they're going to do it in convincing fashion.
Rayshad Jackson forced a fumble from Vanderbilt QB Riley Neal, and defensive end Nate Neal returned it into Vandy territory. Seven plays later, running back Chad Magyar charged into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown run to give UNLV a commanding, 34-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
UNLV has dominated on the ground all day, racking up 198 rushing yards on 45 carries (4.4 per attempt). Magyar has been especially effective, running for 100 yards on 17 carries.
UNLV extends lead to 27-10 at Vanderbilt
With less than a quarter to play, UNLV has a 27-10 lead at Vanderbilt.
The two teams spent the third quarter trading questionable punts in short-yardage situations, but the Rebels caught a big break toward the end of the period when linebacker Javin White stepped in front of a pass from Vandy QB Riley Neal and made a key interception.
White returned the INT to the Vanderbilt 10-yard line, and though the offense couldn't punch it in from there, the Rebels were content to settle for an 18-yard yard field goal by Daniel Gutierrez on the first play of the fourth quarter. The kick gave the Rebels a three-score lead with less than 15 minutes to play.
If the defense can avoid a total collapse, UNLV is looking at a surprising win on the road against an SEC opponent.
UNLV leads Vanderbilt at half, 24-10
UNLV took the air out of the ball on in lieu of attempting a 2-minute drill at the end of the half, and the Rebels have a 24-10 lead at the break.
A run-heavy offensive game plan paid off over the first 30 minutes, as UNLV rushed for 141 yards at 5.4 yards per carry. With Vanderbilt selling out to stop the run, Kenyon Oblad has picked his spots well, hitting 5-of-7 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rebels are going to have a chance to really put the pressure on Vanderbilt, as Oblad and the offense will get the ball to start the third quarter. Another scoring drive would make this a three-possession game, and with Vanderbilt's struggling to stop the run, that kind of lead would have to look pretty insurmountable.
Oblad's second TD pass puts UNLV up 24-10 at Vandy
Kenyon Oblad just tossed his second touchdown pass of the day, and UNLV has extended its lead to 24-10 with 3:39 left in the first half.
The Rebels have mostly kept the action on the ground today, but Oblad hit a couple of key third-down passes on that drive, including a 5-yard score to tight end Noah Bean on a roll-out to the right. Oblad is now 5-of-7 on the day for 108 yards, with two TDs and no interceptions.
Kenyon Oblad TD pass puts Rebels up 17-7 at Vandy
We could be looking at an upset bid, as UNLV just extended its lead to 17-7 over Vanderbilt on a long touchdown pass from Kenyon Oblad to Randal Grimes.
Taking over on a short field after Vandy missed a 46-yard field goal, the Rebels had Oblad roll to the left before firing deep down the right hash for Grimes. The sophomore receiver had separation behind the defense and Oblad hit him in stride for a 63-yard score.
It was just Oblad's third pass of the day, and he's now 2-of-3 for 74 yards. UNLV is now averaging 8.4 yards per play; Vanderbilt is averaging 7.5 yards per play, but the Rebels have come up with a couple key 3rd- and 4th-down stops.
With 12:05 left before halftime, UNLV has put itself in good position here.
UNLV, Vanderbilt tied 7-7 in first quarter
It's still early, but it looks like the Rebels came to play today.
Vanderbilt made a statement on the game's opening possession by marching 75 yards for a touchdown, but UNLV answered with a 12-play scoring drive that ended with a 5-yard scoring run by Charles Williams. The Rebels ran the ball 11 times on the drive and threw it only once, with Kenyon Oblad hitting Steve Jenkins for a first down on 3rd-and-9.
The UNLV defense just came up with a big stop on 4th-and-1 at midfield, so the offense will start with pretty good field position on possession No. 2.
Three keys for UNLV football at Vanderbilt
The idea of UNLV beating an SEC football team on the road almost sounds ludicrous on its surface, but could the Rebels (1-4) have a real chance of taking down Vanderbilt (1-4) today? Three keys to watch:
Establish the run
It may be the oldest cliche in the history of the sport, but for UNLV it couldn't be more true. The Rebels want to be a run-first team, but they've been too quick to abandon that strategy in recent losses. That can't happen against Vanderbilt, which fields the second-worst rushing defense in all of college football. If Armani Rogers were healthy for this game, I'd say expect a huge dose of QB keepers, but with Kenyon Oblad getting the start the plan has to shift to feeding running back Charles Williams.
When UNLV does throw the ball, Tony Sanchez wants to create explosive plays. That puts the onus on the team's wide receivers to not only get open down the field, but also to make things happen after the catch, which is an element that has been sorely missing from the offense this season. Tyleek Collins in particular has struggled to generate chunk plays despite being the Rebels' fastest receiver. Don't expect Oblad to throw it a ton, like last week when UNLV called 60 pass plays against Boise State, but when he does UNLV needs to gain big yardage.
Rattle the QB
Vanderbilt is dealing with its own quarterback controversy, as starter Riley Neal is being pushed by backup Deuce Wallace. Neither have shown much propensity for throwing the ball. Neal, a fifth-year senior, is completing 61.7 percent but for just 6.7 yards per attempt; Wallace, a fifth-year junior and former converted defensive back, is hitting on 46.5 percent for 3.5 yards per attempt. UNLV's secondary is not capable of smothering most passing offenses, but the Rebels should get aggressive and limit the amount of short, confidence-building completions they're willing to give up. Make the Vanderbilt quarterbacks earn every yard.
Previewing UNLV football at Vanderbilt with reader questions
As UNLV (1-4) looks to score a season-turning win on the road at Vanderbilt today (1 p.m., SEC Network), let’s preview the game with some reader questions:
If you had to pick an emoji to describe Tony Sanchez tenure as head coach, what would it be?
Perfect question, and I believe I have the perfect answer:
This emoji works on a couple levels. For one, the biggest and most tangible accomplishment of Sanchez’s five-year tenure has been the construction of the Fertitta Football Complex. The brand-new building was essential to making UNLV a real Division I football program, and it doesn’t get built without Sanchez. That’s a huge accomplishment and he deserves full credit.
That emoji also works for Sanchez’s on-field record. UNLV was a massive rebuilding project when he was hired, and five years later it’s a situation still very much under construction. I’d say he’s improved the program overall, but on the field the Rebels are still far from being a consistently good team. The work continues on that front.
Like I said, it’s the perfect emoji.
Is Shibel playing at the 5 or the stretch 4? Is Blair playing the 4 or a wing 3? Is Hardy playing the 2 and backup point or is Coleman the backup behind Long at the 1?
With the caveat that we haven’t actually seen a practice or a game, I think it’s safe to assume that the Rebels are going to play a fair bit of small-ball under T.J. Otzelberger. That means most players will be manning multiple positions, depending on the matchups. Amauri Hardy is a point guard, but in Otzelberger’s system he’ll play alongside fellow point Elijah Mitrou-Long and play the 2; Nick Blair is a natural 3, but his outside shooting makes him a more useful player at the 4; same with Vitaliy Shibel playing the 5. Just assume that most guys are going to be playing up a position at times, with the idea of getting as much shooting and versatility on the floor together as possible.
Do you think part of the problem with UNLV football’s struggling offense is the change from, Coach Cotton to Coach Justice? How is their play calling different?
I think that has probably been an underreported storyline throughout the season. When Barney Cotton’s medical situation forced him to take a leave of absence and Garin Justice took on play-calling duties in addition to his day job as the offensive line coach, we shouldn’t have expected a completely smooth transition.
Cotton was a long, long, long-time veteran at the college level, and he knew how to play to the Rebels’ preferred run-first identity. Without him steering the ship on game days, we’ve seen UNLV drift away from the running game too quickly in multiple contests, to the point that head coach Tony Sanchez seemed to consider taking over play-calling duties after last week’s loss to Boise State.
Under Cotton’s direction, UNLV never averaged fewer than 40 carries per game from 2015-18, and they ranked No. 18 in the nation last year with 43.6 rushing attempts per game; this season, the Rebels are down to 35.5 carries per game, which ranks 75th. No matter who is calling the plays, they’ve got to get back to pounding the run game.
Talk to me about a neutral field football game between Dalton Sneed and Bobby Hauck’s Montana Grizzlies vs. Sanchez and Armani Rogers's Rebels. Who wins?
I’m not qualified to set a line for this game, but I know that UNLV would be insane to accept a neutral-site matchup. Talk about a lose-lose situation ...
Montana is dominating the FCS with a 5-0 record while averaging 41.0 points per game, and former Rebels QB Dalton Sneed is lighting it up to the tune of 313.2 passing yards per game, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. The Grizzlies are just frisky enough that UNLV would be smart to stay away and let their former quarterback and coach enjoy success from afar.
I expect Hardy, Tillman, Blair, and Diong to contribute at this level because I've seen it or, in Tillman's case, stats from a PAC12 school are convincing. Of the others, "the unknowns", which 1-2 players are you most confident in their ability to come in and impact from day 1?
I’m pretty confident that Jonah Antonio is going to knock down open 3-pointers. He did it at a high rate at the junior college level last year, and while the jump from juco to Division I is significant, an open jumper should still be an open jumper. Antonio made 40.7 percent of his 3’s last year, and that was on 7.0 attempts per game. That accuracy, combined with that volume, bodes well for his ability to make shots in 2019-20.
Who is the one shooter on this year's RunninRebel squad that you would count on most to nail a buzzer-beater 3-pointer off a designed play?
Great question, especially since it’s pure speculation at this point. I dug through the numbers a little bit and came up with five reasonable candidates: Amauri Hardy, Donnie Tillman, Elijah Mitrou-Long, Nick Blair and Jonah Antonio. I just explained Antonio’s credentials, so let’s focus on the other guys since I have DI stats for them last year.
Here’s how each player fared when left unguarded for catch-and-shoot jumpers last season:
Tillman: 47.1 percent
Mitrou-Long: 45.2 percent
Blair: 38.1 percent
Hardy: 33.3 percent
And here’s how they performed on jumpers with less than four seconds on the clock:
Blair: 33.3 percent
Mitrou-Long: 22.6 percent
Tillman: 21.4 percent
Hardy: 18.8 percent
If you’re telling me that the “designed play” is going to get the shooter open for a clean, unrushed look, I’d draw it up for Tillman or Antonio, since they have the best advanced stats from 3-point range. Mitrou-Long was good on open looks last year, but his overall 3-point rate of 32.0 percent would make me wary of drawing up a play for him until we see how his shot looks this season.
The late-clock numbers are also interesting. Those are usually the toughest shots, and Blair performed surprisingly well in that regard (albeit in a small sample).
For my final answer, I’d set up Tillman for the game-winner. But if the designed play broke down, I’d put the ball in Hardy’s hands since he’s the best bet to create a decent look off the dribble.