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Blowout loss all-too-familiar look for UNLV football

The point was made by a press box scribe at halftime of UNLV’s football game against Arkansas State on Saturday night: That a person could disappear for several years, banished to an existence of no TV, no internet, no ability of any kind to follow the Rebels, and return to offer this evaluation of the program …

Nothing has changed.

Had it been Mike Sanford or Bobby Hauck explaining yet another loss afterward instead of Tony Sanchez as coach, I’m not sure anyone would have noticed.

Well, you know, other than the part about Sanford calling out his players for not executing.

One step forward is yet again three steps back, the latest example being a 43-17 blowout loss to the Red Wolves before an announced gathering of 18,742 at Sam Boyd Stadium, many of whom began booing the Rebels late in a first half that was altogether dreadful for UNLV.

“Extremely disappointed in the performance,” Sanchez said. “I just shared with the guys that this is unacceptable. We have a lot to work on. We have to challenge some of our young guys to challenge older guys for jobs. There is no reason for this to happen. It’s our job as coaches to get in these guys’ faces a little bit.”

This was scripted as one of several toss-up games UNLV needed to win in its pursuit of six victories and bowl eligibility, a matchup that kicked off with Arkansas State a 1-point favorite.

Talk about hilarious fiction.

This was night-and-day different in terms of ability and execution.

I’m not certain at all what UNLV was doing offensively at times, but yet another replay of redshirt junior quarterback Armani Rogers struggling to complete the most basic of passes — he finished 8 of 23 for 42 yards and a pick-six— was all too familiar.

He just can’t produce consistently through the air.

He threw for 42 yards. He was sacked six times for 40.

But the crazy thing is, despite Sanchez suggesting afterward that he could open up competition for the starting spot this week, Rogers remains UNLV’s best chance to win games.

Kenyon Oblad is a redshirt freshman who threw a 56-yard scoring pass late in the game, but isn’t ready to assume a No. 1 role. Sanchez has to know that.

The fact remains that given Rogers’ accuracy issues, those around him must be incredibly productive for the Rebels to find success against any capable opponent.

That was hardly the case Saturday, on the field and sidelines.

The Rebels couldn’t protect Rogers, and the play-calling when the score was still somewhat respectable proved brutal.

Nobody really believed Sanchez earlier in the week when he stated the Rebels would need to throw often to win, that UNLV’s wide receivers would have to outperform their Red Wolves counterparts.

How could UNLV, given its struggles at quarterback in terms of passing, ever embrace such a game plan against anyone?

Sanchez decried the fact his team didn’t take more deep shots, but what in the world would give any of these coaches the idea such a strategy could prove beneficial?

One of those few shots came on third-and-5 from the UNLV 49 and the Rebels trailing 17-3, a sideline route that the best of college quarterbacks might struggle completing, never mind one whose career completion percentage is below 50.

The play had no chance. UNLV would have been better off running on third down and again on fourth if needed.

It’s always better off running.

Figure things out

I understand they’re trying to build confidence within Rogers and that the Rebels couldn’t block anyone, but check-down swing passes time and again on third-and-distance were more give-up plays than actual opportunities to extend drives.

UNLV must gain more positive yardage on early downs.

“Just a lack of details and we couldn’t find our rhythm out there,” Rogers said. “Our defense did a great job at first, giving us opportunities to convert, and we didn’t capitalize. … We have been working our tails off all fall camp, all summer, and one game is not going to define us.”

Um, this might:

A game at Northwestern is next. Then at Wyoming. Then home to Boise State. Then at Vanderbilt. Then at Fresno State. Then home to San Diego State.

UNLV better get things figured out fast, or the pursuit of six is going to quickly become too big a hurdle to scale.

This was supposed to be a toss-up game against a solid but hardly insurmountable opponent in the fifth season of UNLV’s coaching staff.

And it wasn’t close.

And that’s disturbing.

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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