Updated October 25, 2020 - 9:18 am
CARSON, Calif. — Somewhere, the one who promised folks there is nowhere to go but up is nodding his head.
For beginnings, it was, well … rough.
New eras have to start somewhere. This particular one did for Marcus Arroyo and UNLV football in a 34-6 loss to San Diego State on Saturday night before few souls at Dignity Health Sports Park.
History will remember Arroyo debuting as a head coach in a sorrowful time of a pandemic.
In a 27,000-seat soccer stadium with only university staff and media and officials looking on.
In a game during which, over the first 30 minutes, San Diego State had more points than UNLV did yards. Yes, you read that right.
The Rebels in that first half resembled a team that not only had spring ball canceled because of COVID-19 but also one that struggled preparing for this moment ever since. Things were that disjointed. That out of sync. That rough.
“This is one step in a journey that I’m looking forward to,” Arroyo said. “We didn’t get what we wanted, but I think we will learn from this. There are a lot of things that organically we will learn from. Lot of things we need to clean up.”
Kept on playing
There is this: The most important series for UNLV came to begin the second half, the Rebels down 27-0 and having played poor enough that four San Diego State backs had outgained them 213-25 to that point. Yes, you read that right.
The drive lasted 13 plays and covered 81 yards over 6:22. Behind senior quarterback Max Gilliam, who started each half while Kenyon Oblad and Justin Rogers also played, UNLV scored its first points under Arroyo when Gilliam hit Steve Jenkins for a 4-yard score.
It might be just a fly on the windshield of a blowout loss, but it was a significant one.
Not all insects are judged equally.
UNLV kept playing. On both sides. It didn’t wallow in the reality of a scoreboard. Didn’t think about a game against UNR at Allegiant Stadium on Halloween until this one concluded. Didn’t roll over, however lopsided this thing was, and it was more so than that cake your 8-year-old baked when not mixing the batter thoroughly enough.
For the Rebels to respond to whatever words Arroyo offered at halftime is a positive step. They will look at film and correct things. It happens.
The bad? Oh, boy.
Offense: Worst part was, a line whose starters included three seniors and a junior was manhandled all evening. Yes, it’s a front in a new system with all sorts of things to learn, but manhandled just the same.
Look. San Diego State is good defensively. Really good. The Aztecs get after it. But while you expect most areas of UNLV to improve as the weeks now pass, no weakness was more troubling than how easily the front was beaten time and again.
The Aztecs had five sacks and 14 tackles for loss. At one point, UNLV quarterbacks had thrown four screens that went for negative yards, which is almost impossible. Yes, you read that right.
“We have to do a better job in protection, and we will own that as well,” Arroyo said. “We have to clean that up and be better than that for sure.”
Defense: Gashed from the start. The Aztecs did what they have in making 10 straight bowl games. Nothing fancy. Nothing but positive gains. They ran 46 times for 287 yards, an average of 6.2. They gained 424 total yards to 186 for UNLV. Chunks of yards for San Diego State. Big ones all night.
Specials teams: Missed field goal, punt blocked, punt shanked, missed extra point. Yes, you read that right.
Onward and upward
UNLV has officially entered a new era with Arroyo as its leader. Things didn’t go as planned Saturday. I’m not sure the score does the mismatch justice.
“We played a really, really good football team that has done a lot of good things for a long time and is a good model for this conference,” Arroyo said. “Hats off to them … We hope there is a little bit of growth over each week.”
It’s just a start. It was rough. UNLV kept playing.
Onward and upward.
Nowhere else to go, actually.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.