UNLV’s football team has talked countless times this season about its “24-hour rule,” which gives players and coaches exactly one day to either celebrate a win or stew over a loss. That rule has surely already been broken by all the Rebels involved in Saturday’s embarrassing, season-ending 45-10 defeat to rival UNR at Sam Boyd Stadium.
UNLV’s most lopsided loss of the season and one of its worst defeats ever to the Wolf Pack will linger at least until next season for coach Tony Sanchez, his staff and returning players. And it might linger for a lifetime for the 16 players who put on their Rebels uniforms for the final time Saturday.
On paper, UNLV improved in its second season under Sanchez, winning four games this year after finishing with three wins last season. But it’s hard to make a case for the Rebels (4-8, 3-5 Mountain West) being better after they all but painted the Fremont Cannon blue in their worst effort of the Sanchez era.
Sanchez will help us deliver the postmortem on the 2016 season this week. Until then, here are our final five takeaways from UNLV’s loss to UNR:
1. Huge step back
The Rebels ranked 16th in the nation in rushing (241.5 yards per game), finished with their highest scoring average (31.6) since 1980 and upset a Wyoming team that will host San Diego State for the Mountain West championship. But any progress UNLV made this season was obliterated by Saturday’s debacle.
After fighting to the end of their first 11 games this year, the Rebels inexcusably appeared disinterested in their rivalry game and showed no heart in getting outscored 18-0 in the second half by one of the worst Wolf Pack teams in the last 15 years.
UNLV lost by 38 last season to San Diego State, but considering the Rebels were 10-point favorites over the Wolf Pack (5-7, 3-5), Saturday’s loss ranks as the worst under Sanchez.
2. Roller coaster season flies off rails
UNLV was an enigma this season. After opening with a 50-point rout of FCS school Jackson State, the Rebels crash landed in a 33-30 overtime loss at home to an Idaho team headed to the FCS in 2018. UNLV rallied for a dramatic last-second comeback win at Hawaii, but followed that up by falling behind 35-0 to Colorado State in the first half of a 42-23 home loss. The Rebels then pulled off their biggest win of the season in a thrilling 69-66 triple-overtime win over Wyoming on Nov. 12 before handing over the cannon.
“It was an interesting season. One minute you’re up, then you’re down,” Sanchez said. “You play good teams down to the wire, then you play a team you’re very evenly matched with and they come out and kick your tail. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
3. Special teams were atrocious
Rebels kicker Evan Pantels sent the opening kickoff out of bounds and UNR cashed in on its good field position, marching 65 yards on eight plays for a quick 7-0 lead. Following a three-and-out by UNLV, Andrew Celis returned the ensuing punt 58 yards after recovering his own fumble to set up a short field goal that made it 10-0.
It was the third consecutive game the Rebels allowed a punt return that long as they gave up a 60-yarder for a touchdown to Wyoming’s Austin Conway and a 73-yarder to Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson.
UNLV was next-to-last in the nation in punt returns, with minus-1 yard on 12 returns, 96th in kick returns and in the bottom 15 in punt return and kick return defense.
4. Armani Rogers era begins
Rebels quarterbacks Kurt Palandech, Dalton Sneed and Johnny Stanton combined for the country’s fourth-lowest completion percentage (46.9, 138 of 294) as UNLV finished in the bottom 15 in passing offense at 162.9 ypg with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
It’s time to hand the reins to Rogers, a highly-touted 6-foot-5-inch freshman who redshirted this season and was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN coming out of Los Angeles’ Hamilton High School.
5. Sanchez needs to show serious improvement next year
With a new athletic director set to replace Tina Kunzer-Murphy after she steps down this summer, the honeymoon might be over for Sanchez unless the Rebels take a big step forward in the third year of his four-year contract at UNLV.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.