Sanford must shoulder full blame

If this is bouncing back, I’d hate to see what UNLV’s football team looks like when it’s not focused.

I hope the talk this week isn’t about missing defensive gaps or some nonsense about the scout team’s offensive line unable to give the starters a good look, because then we’d have to get a little loopy ourselves, throw up the arms and impose our own media lockdown.

There’s an idea — voluntarily limit our access to Mike Sanford’s team until it proves capable of holding an opponent under 50 points.

We might never ask another question.

It has come to this: Even the large Brigham Young fan base that dots many parts of Southern Nevada assumed its favorite team would roll into town and smack the Rebels around, given the 25,597 at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday was the second-smallest gathering for a BYU-UNLV game since the Mountain West Conference began play in 1999.

BYU 59, UNLV 21.

Imagine this: BYU, as consistently a terrific offense as the nation knows annually, hadn’t scored double digits in each quarter since 2006.

Until it did Saturday night.

What in the defensive joke is there to say any more about the Rebels?

Sanford said Monday he would be more involved with the defense this week following the 63-28 disaster of a loss against UNR. I’m not so sure he should have admitted to playing a larger role, not after BYU nearly equaled the Wolf Pack’s scoring output.

Not after UNLV again was exposed to having a defense with little to no hope of preventing any decent opponent from having its way.

Neal Smatresk was said to be out of state Saturday night, but wherever the UNLV president was, I’m guessing Sanford hopes that city’s cable provider doesn’t get The Mtn.

Smatresk on Monday stated his intention to watch and evaluate UNLV’s program on a weekly basis following the UNR game. He was concerned. He was troubled.

Wait until he sees the tape of this baby.

What to do? The Rebels are 2-4 today, and at least a few games remain (at New Mexico, home to Colorado State and San Diego State) that you would think UNLV might not get embarrassed in and possibly could win.

But how long can Smatresk and interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie go with Sanford, now 13-40 at UNLV and in his fifth season? They’re losing fan interest (you know, whatever level there was in the first place) with each passing blowout defeat.

There is a $60,000 or so difference in Sanford’s buyout clause if he is terminated before Dec. 4 or after. How much is it worth to those in charge to possibly insert some sort of life into a fading season and perennial losing program?

The Rebels over the past two weeks have surrendered 122 points and 1,384 yards. They have allowed 850 rushing yards. Come on. That’s so far beyond missing gaps and covering for teammates and not getting proper practice looks, it’s ridiculous.

Sanford afterward was asked if he would keep himself as coach if he were the athletic director, and he responded by saying he felt it was an unfair question.

After the past two weeks?

Here’s the deal: Opponents 122, UNLV 49 over eight quarters makes nothing an unfair question today. There doesn’t exist such a thing when you get rolled this badly this late in a coaching tenure.

The Rebels just can’t get anyone off the field. They can’t produce any kind of key stop. Consider: In the past two weeks, UNR and BYU were 15-for-18 on third-down conversions. The plays that succeeded covered an average of more than 19 yards, and five went for 24 or more.

Sanford afterward pointed to the fact that linebacker Starr Fuimaono (ankle) didn’t play and linebacker Ronnie Paulo (shoulder) was limited as reasons for UNLV’s poor defensive effort, which means had they played, BYU likely would have won by only 30.

The Rebels can’t apply any type of pressure to a quarterback and have a secondary that owns no chance of holding up for more than a few seconds. They can’t tackle well enough to make certain 4-yard runs don’t turn into 52-yard touchdowns.

They can’t tackle at all, really.

But they never have consistently under Sanford and the ever-changing names at defensive coordinator. They never have been sound on that side of the ball.

And that’s coaching. It’s obvious UNLV lacks much skill defensively. The Rebels have a few nice players but are gravely lacking in most spots. They haven’t recruited well enough on defense, and they certainly haven’t coached well enough.

That’s what we should hear this week. That and that only.

Sanford, for good or bad, with a future coaching the Rebels following this season or not, needs to take responsibility for the mess of these last few weeks. He needs to emerge from that vacuum and point the finger at his chest and no one else.

It begins and ends with him, and any other reason given for 122-49 would be laughable.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on “The Sports Scribes” on KDWN-AM (720) and www.kdwn.com.

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