Rebels’ season ends with thud in upset loss at San Diego State

SAN DIEGO — A team that loses to San Diego State probably doesn’t deserve to go to a bowl anyway.

But because UNLV found a way to lose to one of the nation’s worst football teams Saturday night, the Rebels again will have no postseason.

No New Mexico Bowl. Or Hawaii Bowl. Or Texas Bowl.

No nothing.

Not after a humiliating 42-21 loss before 65,000 empty seats at Qualcomm Stadium.

This might be the most pungent defeat in Mike Sanford’s four seasons as UNLV’s coach — and that’s saying something considering his 11-36 record. But consider San Diego State (2-10, 1-7 Mountain West) ranked last in the conference in total, scoring and rushing defense and in rushing offense.

Sanford refused to concede the loss was embarrassing, going with the anti-Bill Parcells approach and saying the Aztecs were better than their record. But it’s a game UNLV, a 10-point favorite, should have won.

“Without a question,” Sanford said. “Yeah, we should’ve won.”

The question is what about Sanford’s future. He has one year left on his contract, but he probably will come back. Cash-strapped UNLV would need to spend about $1 million to change staffs, and the Rebels (5-7, 2-6) had their best season since going 6-6 in 2003.

“Even though I’m very disappointed tonight, the program has shown vast improvement,” UNLV athletic director Mike Hamrick said.

Hamrick will meet with Sanford in a little more than a week to discuss where the program stands, and the issue probably will be whether the coach receives an extension and for how many years.

Sanford might not want to bring up this game or his 0-3 record against Aztecs coach Chuck Long, who is 6-27 against everyone else.

And even though improvement was shown this season, the Rebels still haven’t put together a winning season or played in the postseason since 2000.

Sanford will face serious decisions, especially regarding his defense. After back-to-back encouraging performances against offense-challenged New Mexico and Wyoming, the defense reverted to the unit that seemed to have no clue how to stop the forward pass.

San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley completed 35 of 50 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Vincent Brown caught eight passes for 119 yards.

“I’m not going to say anything about major changes,” Sanford said. “All I can say is I’m going to evaluate it, I’m going to look at it, and we must improve.”

UNLV at least figured to run against the Aztecs, who had given up 267 yards rushing per game, last in the nation.

Senior tailback Frank Summers, however, hurt his right knee midway through the first quarter and was done for the night and UNLV career.

UNLV tried to stick to the run but gained only 33 yards and wound up abandoning that attack. Quarterback Mike Clausen completed 26 of 40 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Ryan Wolfe caught 11 passes for 144 yards and two TDs and became the Rebels’ career leader in both categories.

It wasn’t enough as UNLV came within a victory of being bowl eligible, only to lose to a team that got pounded 70-7 by New Mexico.

“Just know what we had at stake and knowing we were right there at the front door … it hurts a lot,” Clausen said.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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