Sanford's decision-making leads to head-scratching

On second thought, perhaps Mike Sanford should remain UNLV football coach for the next decade or so. These 7 p.m. kickoffs can be tough on the ol' deadline writing skills, but with the Rebels of late, you always have a pretty good idea where things are headed at halftime.

I'm not sure where to begin this week.

Other than ... Wow.

The Rebels lost their fourth straight game Saturday night, and it was as deserved a setback as the previous three, but this was hardly an outcome that should have been decided by the fourth quarter.

But it was so poorly managed by UNLV, so poorly coached, the end result was inevitable.

Utah beat UNLV 35-15 before a homecoming crowd of 26,315 at Sam Boyd Stadium, beat a Rebels team that couldn't get out of its own way all night.

What in the world are these people doing?

I can't understand for the life of me why, when UNLV is afforded a chance to cut Utah's lead to 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter and lines up for a 30-yard field goal, Sanford calls timeout, then attempts the fake with a holder (Ben Jaekle) who appeared to have last thrown a football in the third grade.

Not that it would have mattered, anyway. Jaekle could have been Peyton Manning with his pass attempt and it would have gone for naught. UNLV had an ineligible receiver downfield, because I have to believe the poor kid probably assumed what everyone but Sanford had, that the Rebels had kicked a field goal and he was looking for a teammate to hug.

Who calls timeout and allows a defense to set itself against a possible fake?

And -- here's the critical part -- why?

At worst, take a delay of game penalty, kick it from 35 yards and be within 10. Kyle Watson can make it from 35 with ease.

Think about it: The Rebels trailed 28-6 at halftime. They missed opportunity after opportunity. They had a quarterback in junior Omar Clayton who had thrown one awful interception into triple coverage that set up a touchdown and another bad throw that was picked off, fumbled into another's hands and returned for a score.

But there were the gutsy Rebels, having climbed back in this thing, ready to cut the lead to 28-18.

Timeout ... to run a fake.

Sanford afterward (incredibly) admitted it was a called play but the Rebels didn't execute. He also (incredibly) said he wouldn't go into further detail in case UNLV wanted to run the play again.


I don't care that the play run wasn't the one called. That has nothing to do with it. You have to kick the ball and certainly have to kick it after you call timeout.

I also don't understand when the one offensive play that actually seems to work much of the time -- a fade to sophomore wide receiver Phillip Payne inside the red zone -- is only attempted once in the first five trips when reaching Utah's 20-yard line. The one time UNLV threw it the first three quarters, Payne caught a 2-yard scoring pass while being interfered with.

They tried a fade and a fake fade where Payne broke back to the ball during a fourth-quarter red-zone trip, but an offside penalty and a marginal throw never allowed for success.

UNLV wasn't terrible at all defensively. The Rebels weren't bad at all. Something about playing Utah in this stadium. The defense tends to step up.

But the side of the ball that has helped dig Sanford this seemingly inescapable hole in his fifth season didn't get much help at all from those trusted to score enough points, or at least throw the ball to the correct jerseys.

So here we are, another week, another loss: UNLV is 2-5, two losses from once again guaranteeing it can't be considered for a postseason bowl game. The Rebels next play at winless New Mexico on Saturday, when one of the nation's worst teams will be without its first-year head coach, suspended for allegedly punching an assistant.

The Rebels have lost a school-record 20 straight conference road games, so you figure the game is at best a pick 'em. It's also true the Rebels own as much chance winning at Texas Christian on Halloween as Balloon Boy does not being teased by schoolmates in the coming years.

At best two weeks from now, the Rebels are 3-6.

Which means to become bowl eligible, they must beat a Colorado State team they have never defeated in Las Vegas on Nov. 7, win at Air Force the following week, and on Nov. 28 defeat an improved San Diego State side that has toppled UNLV two straight years.

OK then.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on "The Sports Scribes" on KDWN-AM (720) and


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