UNLV defense rests … again

UNLV president Neal Smatresk promised early last week he would be closely watching the football program, and said Rebels coach Mike Sanford was being evaluated on a weekly basis.

Now the president, in conjunction with interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie, faces program-altering decisions in light of UNLV’s 59-21 loss to No. 18 Brigham Young on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

It was the program’s second such embarrassment in a row. UNR beat the Rebels 63-28 a week ago, meaning UNLV has been outscored by a combined 122-49 in two games.

When Sanford was asked what he would tell Koloskie if asked why he should keep his job, the coach responded, “I’m not even going to answer that. That’s an unfair question.”

Koloskie repeatedly was asked about Sanford’s job status and stuck to doing an end-of-season evaluation.

“My position hasn’t changed from last week,” Koloskie said. “We’re halfway through the season.

“I still think this football team has a lot of promise, and we’ll just have to wait and see when that time comes.”

The president, though, could step in, especially since he already has made his opinion known.

“Again, as the athletic director, my position hasn’t changed,” Koloskie said.

Fans apparently have spoken by staying away from Sam Boyd Stadium. Oregon State and Hawaii fans made up roughly 40 percent of the crowds earlier, and Brigham Young appeared to have about half the supporters in attendance for this game.

The attendance was announced at 25,597, the second lowest for a UNLV-BYU game since the Mountain West Conference began play in 1999.

UNLV (2-4, 0-2 Mountain West) is 13-40 under Sanford, now midway through his fifth season. Not that losing to BYU (5-1, 2-0) was a surprise — the Cougars were 161/2-point favorites — but the timing after the UNR defeat was unsettling, an indication of a season headed the wrong way.

At least this time, the Rebels didn’t give up 773 yards, including 559 on the ground.

BYU did enough, though, racking up 611 yards using a balanced attack, giving UNLV opponents 1,384 yards in the past two games. Of those, 850 yards were on the ground, including 291 by BYU.

Cougars running back Harvey Unga rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

Quarterback Max Hall completed 21 of 27 passes for 320 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

It didn’t help UNLV that perhaps its best defensive player, linebacker Starr Fuimaono, missed the game with an ankle injury.

The Rebels had their moments — a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Deante Purvis and a 75-yard scoring pass from quarterback Omar Clayton to wide receiver Michael Johnson — but that was about it.

Clayton, returning after missing the previous week because of an injured throwing shoulder, was 20 of 32 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Backup quarterback Mike Clausen also threw an interception, and Sanford said the three turnovers were “the difference in the game.”

Now the challenge is to find a way to change the season’s momentum, which won’t be easy with a home game against Utah next Saturday.

Sanford tried to remain optimistic, saying, “It’s going to get righted, no question.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Read the latest UNLV football updates at lvrj.com/blogs/unlv_sports.

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