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Embarrassing loss to UNR is one of UNLV’s all-time worst

The fourth quarter arrived Saturday to what would prove one of the most embarrassing losses in UNLV football history — a list of such debacles that stretches from here to Zambia — and a member of the Rebels coaching staff ran up and down one sideline at Sam Boyd Stadium banging his chest, essentially suggesting the team play with heart those final 15 minutes.

Which was more amusing than anything.

After all, why would the Rebels start then?

The entirety of a season will be evaluated another time, all of its up and downs and twists and turns, along with those steps the Rebels must now take to show improvement in what will be the third season under head coach Tony Sanchez in 2017.

But in the context of one day, one game against its bitter rival in UNR, one snapshot before an announced gathering of 23,569, the Rebels offered a shameful performance that was as inexcusable as it was miserable.

Never in its history has the Fremont Cannon deserved to be painted blue as it does now, the result of a 45-10 victory by UNR that saw the Wolf Pack outcoach, outplay, and outwork UNLV in every imaginable way.

UNR entered a 10-point underdog, a line it made folly of throughout the butt-whipping of UNLV.

The original cannon was used on an expedition in 1843, and allegedly left in a snowdrift in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Makes sense. The Rebels played on Saturday as if plodding through a blizzard.

A man’s pride might indeed be his downfall, but what’s his excuse when he doesn’t exhibit any?

UNR players attacked the game as if not only competing for their head coach (Brian Polian) to keep his job as rumors circulate about his potential firing in the coming days, but as if it meant everything in the world to them.

UNLV players attacked it like they might a mid-week spring practice, a fact that lies directly at their feet and those coaches who obviously couldn’t motivate them for a game that should need no extra incentive to show up and compete.

How in the world can a team appear this disinterested and lacking in effort on Senior Day against its rival?

“Obviously, an extremely, extremely disappointing performance,” Sanchez said. “I’m disappointed in our lack of preparedness and physicality. We looked a like a tired and worn-down football team, and that’s unacceptable to be that in a game that was as big as that. Those are the kind of games you want to come out and perform well in. They just took us out to the woodshed. There are no excuses. We just got flat-out beat.

“They came out and kicked our tails.”

This wasn’t about injuries or youth or any of the factors many have pointed to following several of UNLV’s eight losses, because to understand how dreadful this particular one was, you must first comprehend how bad UNR has been this season.

The Wolf Pack are, statistically, one of the nation’s worst teams. Even on those weeks UNR managed to win — it did so five times, once more than UNLV — it usually looked substandard doing so.

UNR ranks last nationally in rush defense, allowing a staggering average of 308.1 yards.

In its previous four games, it allowed an average of 411 on the ground and 17 rushing touchdowns.

The Rebels managed 182 and one.

UNR hasn’t been this bad in over 15 years and yet it ripped UNLV up and down the field all afternoon, as the Rebels surrendered season highs in rushing yards (318) and total yards (511). UNR was 8-of-13 on third down; UNLV was 1-of-12.

Bad teams have this tendency to play as if on a season-long roller-coaster, able to ratchet up emotion and will and compete above its heads some weeks and then look awful against inferior or like competition on others. UNLV, despite making strides in certain areas and winning one more game this year than last, remains a bad team in more phases than not.

It’s why Sanchez will hit the recruiting trail Tuesday and has far more to be worried about and fix than how many media members attend his weekly press conference on rivalry week or the ensuing game. That’s small-time stuff for a program that needs some big-time answers given what transpired Saturday.

It all remains relative in that UNLV is better now than it was last November, but much of the progress that appeared at different times this season was erased in this 45-10 stinker, as dusk approached and UNR players and coaches rolled a red cannon that soon would be blue to midfield, where a much deserved celebration began.

This followed the game’s final play, which followed a UNLV timeout with 11 seconds remaining in a 35-point game and the Rebels facing third-and-goal from the UNR 3.

The conclusion: UNR intercepted Rebels quarterback Kurt Palandech.

A fitting end to a forgetful, embarrassing loss.

One of UNLV’s worst in a long line of such debacles, as inexcusable as it was miserable.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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