Don’t bother considering any of the other 35 losses UNLV’s football team has suffered under head coach Mike Sanford. Don’t bother searching through four years of mostly failing results.
You won’t discover a worse defeat than this. Nor a more embarrassing one.
This was ridiculous.
Bowl eligibility went up in flames here for the Rebels on Saturday night, when one of the poorest Division I-A teams the nation has witnessed this season outplayed, outcoached, out-everything-you-can-imagine UNLV in a 42-21 win at Qualcomm Stadium.
San Diego State.
You have to be kidding.
“Embarrassment is not the right word,” Sanford said. “All I can say is … that’s not the right word. I’m very disappointed. That’s the whole problem with this thing. Everyone outside our program was telling us how good they were and the media kept telling us how easy this game was going to be. They’re a good football team. They’re a better football team than their record.”
Where to begin?
1. It’s the media’s fault. Gee, we’ve never heard that one. That is one of the all-time foolish insinuations. The media doesn’t play defense as if in a constant cloud of confusion, and it certainly doesn’t miss as many tackles as UNLV did Saturday. The media doesn’t rush for 33 yards against a team that allows an average of 267. People gain more on the ground falling over against the Aztecs than UNLV did.
2. If an eight-team playoff was held at season’s end for the nation’s worst teams this year, San Diego State would not only be invited but might even earn a home game. Think about it. You have Idaho. The two Washington schools. You can’t even get to a second hand before mentioning San Diego State when counting the weakest programs.
Sanford praised the Aztecs’ passing game afterward, which makes sense considering his team never stopped it. UNLV allowed redshirt freshman Ryan Lindley (a good player with the chance to be great, whom the Rebels made look like Peyton Manning) to complete a career-best 35 passes in 50 tries for 387 yards and two scores. The Aztecs rank 48th nationally in passing. They can definitely chuck the ball around a little.
Did we also mention this about them: They rank 113th in scoring offense, 114th in scoring defense, 117th in rushing offense, 119th in rushing defense, 106th in total offense, 116th in total defense.
They gave up 70 points to a New Mexico team that was so bad, its coach quit because he didn’t think he could win enough there anymore. They gave up 63 to Utah last week, when some defensive back not on the Utes’ two-deep returned two interceptions for scores.
Any team with bowl eligibility riding on the outcome, playing this dire and struggling an opponent, should have had this game under control by halftime. Sanford can commend the Aztecs from here to eternity. It doesn’t wash. San Diego State is what it is. Dreadful.
And it kicked UNLV’s tail. The Aztecs deserved every snap of this win. They wanted it far more. They played with more commitment and passion, which when you consider what was at stake for the Rebels, is incomprehensible.
“Without a question, yeah, we should have won; I can’t even believe you asked that question,” Sanford said to the R-J’s Mark Anderson, who had every right to ask the question given Sanford a few seconds earlier described San Diego State as far better than its 2-10 record. “No question about it.”
It is such a bad loss, even mentioning the injury that took running back Frank Summers out of UNLV’s backfield in the first quarter seems hollow. Last time I looked, Summers doesn’t play defense.
Can you have a fourth defensive coordinator in five years? Maybe we will find out. Sanford hasn’t solved his team’s defensive shortcomings since becoming head coach, and how poorly the Rebels played against anyone of note this season (and even those such as San Diego State) proves they are still miles from figuring out anything on that side of the ball.
I have no idea how good junior college defensive backs and UNLV commitments Warren Ziegler and Mike Grant are, but they can’t be worse than those now playing. It’s impossible.
Sanford will remain coach next season and might even receive an extension, and there are still many viable reasons (financially and on the field) for giving him one. But this is a defeat that should not soon be overlooked.
“You can say whatever you want to say,” Sanford said. “Call it whatever you want to call it.”
That’s too easy.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Slide show