Loss to winless team shows UNLV’s dire state

UNLV’s football team was driving in the second quarter Saturday night when the Sam Boyd Stadium scoreboard malfunctioned long enough to present the offense this arduous situation:

Second-and-77 from the 42.

What a perfect title for any book on the Rebels’ miserable state.

The unacceptable part isn’t that UNLV lost to a side that last won a game when “The Departed” was still in theaters, though that’s ridiculous enough given 378 days passed and the Rebels were also the last team Colorado State defeated.

The unacceptable part is this: UNLV is now getting worse by the week. The large glimpses of improvement that accompanied early-season games have transformed back into the same collection of errors that define many of the 25 losses produced in Mike Sanford’s two-plus seasons as coach.

This latest debacle — a 48-23 loss to the worst team in coach Sonny Lubick’s 15 years at Colorado State — makes you wonder where in the world the Rebels are going and whether their coaching staff possesses the ability to ever make things right.

Anyone close to the program or still purchasing tickets to support it who isn’t concerned is either exceedingly stubborn or not paying attention, the latter of which could be entirely possible given the announced gathering of 19,266.

This kind of loss against this bad an opponent in the third season of any coach’s tenure demands the big picture be intently scrutinized. Athletic director Mike Hamrick can choose not to comment about the future of any head coach until his face turns blue, but it would be irresponsible for him not to be daily questioning the overall direction of this football team.

Still, here’s a truth many find painful to swallow: Three years most often isn’t enough to completely turn around a program as poor as the one Sanford inherited. The only thing you gain by constantly changing coaches is no stability and more losing. Football can be frustrating for fans that way, but quick fixes are unquestionably the exception and not the rule.

That doesn’t mean Sanford shouldn’t take a long look at himself and how his players are being taught.

How can they be this physically overmatched?

Sanford has recruited at or above a Mountain West Conference level in terms of athletes and those off-field disciplinary issues that have ruined college rebuilding projects for years have for the most part not touched the Rebels under his watch.

It’s those three to four hours each Saturday that seem to give him the most trouble.

No matter how it is ultimately reached, a 25-point home loss to a team that entered 0-6 and being outscored on average 32-18 is embarrassing on numerous levels.

Failing as UNLV did Saturday is an ideal example of how this staff’s gameday reactions should be questioned. The elements (wind gusts throughout reached 50 mph) played a role in how the game developed and it was obvious which side was better suited and directed to handle them.

When it was still a game in question (meaning before halftime), Colorado State drove into the wind during the second quarter and scored 17 points to lead 24-3 at intermission. They did so by simply being tougher and more physical and more desperate for success than UNLV, which never really grasped the concept of putting more than seven defenders in the box against an offense that really had little desire to throw during that time.

As for the Rebels and those swirling squalls:

The wind didn’t miss numerous tackles and make an average back (Gartrell Johnson, 162 yards rushing, 130 more than his average) appear unstoppable.

The wind didn’t have interceptions returned 30 and 99 yards for touchdowns.

The wind didn’t lose two fumbles.

The wind didn’t manage 559 yards in total offense and still find a way to lose by nearly four touchdowns.

“We have the ability when we play at our best to beat anyone on our schedule,” Sanford amazingly said afterward. “We have a choice to how we’re going to respond (at Wyoming on Saturday) and I expect us to respond as champions.”

Second-and-77 from the 42.

Someone call a publisher.

Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-4618.

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