LOGAN, Utah — Three takeaways from UNLV’s 59-28 loss to Utah State on Saturday at Maverik Stadium:
1. UNLV is heading backward.
The Rebels could talk two weeks ago about trying to qualify for a bowl and be taken seriously.
Now the season, following losses to New Mexico and Utah State in which the Rebels were outscored by a combined 109-42, they look lost in a spiral.
UNLV dropped to 2-4 overall (0-2 in the Mountain West) with a Friday game against Air Force at Sam Boyd Stadium coming up. A trip to San Jose State follows before the team enters what could be a brutal November.
Rebels coach Tony Sanchez noted the team was 2-5 last season before making a real run at a bowl, but unless something drastic changes soon, UNLV will be fortunate to finish with even four victories.
“We’re going to have to rally and battle back,” Sanchez said. “You can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”
It’s impossible midway through a coach’s fourth season to avoid big-picture questions.
There have to be serious conversations in the coaches’ offices about the direction of this program. And if it doesn’t get better soon, attention will quickly turn to the athletic director’s office and what actions Desiree Reed-Francois might take.
Right now, she has nothing tangible to convince UNLV fans that better days are ahead.
2. UNLV’s defense also in rear gear.
The Rebels actually played pretty solid on that side of the ball through the first four games.
Then came the New Mexico and Utah State games.
New Mexico totaled 502 yards in a 50-14 victory a week ago behind a third-string quarterback.
Utah State finished with 598 yards, and quarterback Jordan Love picked apart the Rebels’ secondary with four touchdown passes in the first half alone in building a 42-7 halftime lead.
“I think we’re hurting ourselves,” UNLV defensive end Jameer Outsey said. “The things that killed us were the big plays, and that was avoidable. Guys missing their gaps. Guys wrongly aligned. We did that to ourselves. It’s not like we’re going out there and they’re more talented than us or they’re better athletes. They’re taking advantage of the things we do wrong.”
3. And so are special teams.
Sanchez fired his special teams coordinator after last season, but it’s clear the problems go beyond Andy LaRussa, who landed at Southern California.
UNLV had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Aggies, just the latest in what has been a tough season for special teams. The Rebels misplayed a punt return against New Mexico and muffed one against Arkansas State in their two prior games.