UNLV was stuck in a six-game losing streak when it headed to San Diego State last season, a place the Rebels hadn’t won since 2000.
To most outside their locker room, the only question would be the margin of the loss.
But then UNLV, a 23-point underdog, beat the Aztecs 27-24 when Lexington Thomas rushed for a 75-yard touchdown with 3:27 left.
It was a startling victory, and UNLV will need more performances like that with a daunting five-game stretch coming up, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Northwestern. The Rebels, who are coming off a 43-17 home loss to Arkansas State, are 18½-point underdogs.
“I actually feel like we produce better with our back against the wall,” linebacker Javin White said.
UNLV doesn’t have a storied football history, but the one the thing the Rebels have done in recent years is pull off the occasional victory most don’t see coming.
They will be hard-pressed to do that during this stretch, Four of their next five games are on the road. After facing Northwestern, UNLV plays at Wyoming on Sept. 28, against No. 22 Boise State on Oct. 5 at Sam Boyd Stadium, at Vanderbilt on Oct. 12 and at Fresno State on Oct. 18.
These five games will determine UNLV’s fate this season. Should the Rebels lose all five, they will be 1-6 and must win out to become bowl eligible. Though the schedule softens, it’s far from an an easy closing run. There are home games against San Diego State, Hawaii and San Jose State and trips to Colorado State and UNR.
So finding a way to win at least once — and really at least twice — over the next month and a half won’t be easy, but it will be critical for any chance to salvage the season.
“We have to go out there and showcase what we can do,” quarterback Armani Rogers said. “Just block out the noise.”
Criticism of the program grew louder after the loss to Arkansas State. In that game,the Rebels totaled 300 yards of offense while giving up 498.
“Last week was a reality check,” White said. “The film doesn’t lie. It was really our fault. Coming back this week, it’s about trying to fix those (problems) and minimize the mistakes.”
If coach Tony Sanchez refers to recent history in motivating his players, he can point to these games:
— In 2016, UNLV won 41-38 at Hawaii for it first victory in Honolulu since 2000. The Rainbow Warriors were 9-point favorites.
— In 2018, in addition to the upset win at San Diego State, the Rebels ended the season with a 34-29 victory over UNR after falling behind 23-0. The comeback victory was the largest in school history. The Wolf Pack were favored by two touchdowns.
“We’ve got 10 games to go,” Sanchez said. “There are a lot of winnable games out there. Heck, if you play well, they’re all winnable. We’ve got to focus on ourselves and get ourselves right because we can’t have a repeat performance like (last Saturday).”