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UNLV faces must-win bowl scenario starting at New Mexico

Updated November 16, 2017 - 7:49 pm

UNLV’s football history hasn’t had many high points, but the Rebels have had some success when chasing a bowl berth.

Their three most recent postseason appearances came after crucial late-season victories.

UNLV (4-6, 3-3 Mountain West) heads into Friday’s 6:30 p.m. game at New Mexico (3-7, 1-5) needing to beat the Lobos and win at UNR eight days later to become bowl eligible.

“Your back’s against the wall, and you know if you win two in a row, it does a lot of things for you,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “You still have an opportunity to finish second in (the West Division), which is a big deal for us. Winning three conference games in a row would be the first time since 1994.”

UNLV hasn’t always responded well when trying to reach the postseason. Last season, the Rebels had the same record at this point and lost 42-25 at Boise State and 45-10 to UNR. And there was the end to the 2008 season, a 42-21 loss at one-win San Diego State that kept the Rebels from bowl eligibility.

But the Rebels have some history of winning key late games.

SHORT DESCRIPTION (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

They made their most recent postseason appearance in 2013 when the Rebels won 41-21 in bitter cold and snow at Air Force and then crushed San Diego State 45-19 at home. Those victories put UNLV at 7-5, which was crucial because 6-6 San Jose State was left out of the bowl picture, even though the Spartans won the head-to-head matchup. That meant it was the Rebels who were headed to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

In 2000, UNLV needed to win its final three games to reach 7-5, and at the time a winning record was required for a bowl. All three victories — New Mexico, at San Diego State and at Hawaii — were decided in the final two minutes.

UNLV hosted UNR in 1994 with the winner advancing to the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Rebels scored with 58 seconds left for a 32-27 victory.

And it could come down to UNR again, but for that to happen, UNLV first needs to beat New Mexico. Though the Lobos are 2-point favorites, they enter the game on a five-game losing streak.

A fast start for UNLV could set the tone, but which quarterback opens the game hasn’t been announced. Johnny Stanton started the past three games, but Sanchez mentioned the importance of a running quarterback in this game, so that could mean Armani Rogers gets the call. The plan is for both to play.

UNLV’s defense will have to cope with a triple-option New Mexico offense that averages 226.1 yards rushing. The Lobos will be without second-leading rusher Richard McQuarley (473 yards and six touchdowns) because of a leg injury.

“We’ve got to stay disciplined,” Rebels defensive tackle Mike Hughes Jr. said. “You can’t get your eyes here and there and try to make too much happen. You just have to do your job. I know my job will be mostly playing the dive and then after that getting to the ball as much as I can to basically be reinforcements for those guys on the perimeter.”

Defending the option has long been a challenge for the Rebels, and they faced a similar offense Oct. 14 at Air Force. UNLV blew a 27-0 lead in a 34-30 loss.

“That’s probably as well as we’ve played all year for a half of defense,” Sanchez said. “The second half, obviously, we struggled. We have to be able to sustain that disciplined type of football and be able to tackle well. Probably the most difficult thing is (the Lobos) push the ball to the perimeter a lot. You have to do a really, really good job of stretching them, and then the guys in the secondary have to do a phenomenal job of making tackles.”

More Rebels: Follow all of our UNLV coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJRebels on Twitter.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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