PROVO, Utah — Call it revisionist history or simple semantics, but UNLV football coach Mike Sanford seems to have changed his mind about whether his team quit against Brigham Young here two years ago.
"We did not compete like you need to compete, and (now we) have to make a serious evaluation of everybody and everything," Sanford said then after a 52-7 embarrassment by the Cougars.
This week, leading up to the Rebels’ return to BYU, Sanford insisted his team did not quit on the LaVell Edwards Stadium field.
"There were selected individuals who didn’t give the effort I expect, and those guys are no longer here," Sanford said. "Our team did not quit. Our team never quit."
Regardless of his interpretation, the question is, what will happen if the going gets tough today for UNLV (3-4, 0-3 Mountain West Conference) against the No. 18 Cougars (6-1, 2-1)?
After all, the party line is this is a different season and a different UNLV team, without the commitment-challenged players from 2006 and with renewed resolve to not bail under tough circumstances.
"We’ll see how much we’ve improved," Sanford sad. "We’ll find that out, but they were clearly that much better than we were two years ago. That wasn’t (us quitting)."
It wasn’t the type of game a school highlights in its media guide, either. That blustery afternoon was the closest the fourth-year coach has come to saying his players stopped competing.
Why is that important? Because BYU again is capable of posting basketball-like scores, and UNLV is at a point in its season — after consecutive close losses to Colorado State and Air Force — where it could go either way.
That’s why what occurred in 2006 resonates today.
"You remember those games because there’s a lot to learn from a loss, especially a loss like that," Rebels linebacker Jason Beauchamp said. "We’ve got to get up for a big game like this. The guys who were there, we’re not going to forget what happened two years ago."
The Rebels, 23-point underdogs, could have a hard time preventing a repeat of the debacle. Their struggling defense faces the Mountain West’s No. 1 offense, which averages 430.4 yards per game.
Quarterback Max Hall lost his shot at being a Heisman Trophy finalist with last week’s disappointing performance at Texas Christian, but he still has an excellent chance to be the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. Hall also has an array of talented receivers in Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta and Michael Reed who can make plays against a UNLV secondary that has been beaten numerous times.
But UNLV’s main defensive weakness is against the run, having allowed more than 200 yards the past three games. BYU tailback Harvey Unga hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, but he’s still a potential game-breaker who averages 4.5 yards per carry.
UNLV’s improving offense could keep the Rebels in the game, but can they outscore their own defense?
They haven’t been able to during this three-game losing streak.
"I think offensively we’ve kind of been stuck on the 28-point mark," receiver Ryan Wolfe said. "We’re going to have to score more than that. As we’ve seen, 28 points isn’t getting it done for us. We’re not happy with the mediocrity, particularly in this offense."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.