FRESNO, Calif. — UNLV did unspeakably well to beat Vanderbilt in SEC Country last weekend. That 34-10 shakedown was historic by most accounts and great for yearbook pictures.
Alas, it did nothing to mitigate that last-place standing in the Mountain West, where the Rebels remain moribund as ever after Friday night’s 56-27 loss to Fresno State.
So begins the second act of this 12-game schedule. UNLV is 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the conference, a bowl bid needing at least four victories in the next five to play. The Rebels host San Diego State (5-1) on Oct. 26, so any climb out of this basement will be as steep as it is stiff.
If nothing else, UNLV discovered the formula that won’t do anything about its current dilemma: Turn the ball over five times, settle for two 22-yard field goals when touchdowns were called for and watch the home team reel off 28 straight points in the second half.
Yeah, it got that bad, that quick.
“There’s not many 29-point losses where watching the film is going to make me sick to my stomach like this,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “Those turnovers ended up being 28 points. I won’t say we gave it to them, but … you’re not going to win football games like that. I mean, five turnovers? It’s not going to happen.”
To think, the momentum of that Vanderbilt moment seemed to carry over to Bulldog Stadium, if only for half of a half.
The Rebels drove to the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line on the opening drive before settling for Daniel Gutierrez’s 22-yard field goal. They led again 10-7 when freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad found Randal Grimes for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 13:51 left in the second quarter.
As far as meaningful highlights go, that was about it.
Oblad had his spots in the first half, as far as third-ever college starts go. He found Noah Bean north of the zone defense for a 60-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 1:44 remaining in the first half.
On that perfectly threaded pass, Oblad looked right, pivoted left, then back right to the getaway tight end. It’s just hard to remember that moment, as he also threw three interceptions, each one resulting in a short-field touchdown for the Bulldogs.
“You’ve got to calm people down,” Sanchez said. “Again, when you’ve got a young guy in there, playing really hard, you’ve got a choice to make. You can pull him out at that point, right? No, I’m not going to do that. We’re going to let him weather the storm a little bit, come to balance. Obviously, it was a rough couple minutes there where he kind of lost himself, ball started sailing on him, got a little jittery back there.”
By no means was Oblad the only player with issues.
Junior running back Charles Williams, playing in the hometown where he starred in high school, gave up a fumble that Fresno State linebacker Justin Rice returned 18 yards for a touchdown and 35-20 lead late in the third quarter.
Williams opened with 54 yards on 12 carries in the first quarter. He finished with 82 yards on 25 carries.
Backfield mate Chad Magyar rushed 10 times for 44 yards and also lost a fumble. This, against a Fresno State defense that was gouged 69 times for 340 yards last week in a 43-24 loss to Air Force.
UNLV’s defense fared no better. The 56 points allowed? The most this season, against an opponent that had yet to break the 40-point mark. That included a combined five rushing touchdowns from running backs Ronnie Rivers and Josh Hokit.
“Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job of coaching them (defense),” Sanchez said. “It falls on me. I’m pretty ticked right now.”
The Revels have lost four of five, with the Vanderbilt victory looking more and more like the closest they will get to playing in a bowl-type game.
Grimes led the Rebels with two 12-yard touchdown catches, and Bean caught two passes for 105 yards. Oblad completed 16 of 34 passes for 257 yards.
“After Vanderbilt, we had high hopes for the rest of the season,” UNLV linebacker Gabe McCoy said. “We still do have high hopes. Things happen, you’ve got to keep pushing. We’ll be all right.”
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