Three takeaways from UNLV’s 41-35 loss to Air Force on Friday night at Sam Boyd Stadium:
1. OK, finally, forget talk about a bowl.
Not that there was a ton anyway, but if the Rebels had won, they would have put themselves in position to reach .500 with a victory next week at San Jose State.
Now the Rebels are all about trying to hold on, though their second-half rally shows they have fight in them.
Talk about coach Tony Sanchez’s future will only increase, however, unless something big changes soon. UNLV is 2-5, and this season is going to end well below what had been somewhat lofty expectations of making the postseason for the first time in five years.
Here’s what they have coming up after San Jose State: Fresno State, at San Diego State, at Hawaii, UNR.
2. But the Rebels gave it all they had.
The game looked over when Air Force went ahead 41-21 in the third quarter, playing out much like the previous two weeks in losses of 50-14 to New Mexico and 59-28 at Utah State.
It would have been easy for the players to stop going all out, but they battled back and had a final drive to try to win.
Air Force finally turned back the Rebels, who got within six points and had the ball at the Falcons’ 30-yard line.
There are many questions about where the program is headed, but it’s clear that Sanchez hasn’t lost the locker room. Players don’t play that hard under such adverse circumstances if they’ve tuned out the coach.
They need to keep that attitude going forward.
3. Quarterback Max Gilliam made progress.
He threw five touchdown passes in his first two starts in place of the injured Armani Rogers (toe), but all those TDs came against reserves after the game was well out of reach.
Not this time.
Gilliam finished 26 of 38 for 261 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons. He completed 13 of 17 for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
His receivers stepped up, too, with Gilliam connecting with eight players. The passing game also helped open up the running game, with Lexington Thomas rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Gilliam’s play was a reminder that he was a four-star recruit who spent a season at California before transferring to a junior college. With two seasons of eligibility remaining after this one, he could develop into an effective quarterback.