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UNLV focuses on fundamentals as season resumes against Utah State

There are a couple of traits UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo wanted to see in his team during the first five weeks of the season. It was a stretch in which the Rebels played three ranked teams, an FCS juggernaut and an additional unbeaten opponent from Conference USA.

“You want to see guys’ resiliency, and you want to see togetherness,” Arroyo said. “There’s some positives in the way that we’re moving the football. There’s positives in the way that we’re stopping the run. Outside of that are the things that we need to correct. … Is it mental errors? Is it not knowing what you’re doing? Or is it technique and everyday fundamental stuff?

“It’s more technique and fundamentals in the early stages of our program against really good opponents. It’s coachable. It’s not terminal.”

The Rebels return Saturday after a bye week and will search for their first win under Arroyo against Utah State at Allegiant Stadium. They’ve come oh-so-close this year on three occasions, falling by one score or less in the opener to Eastern Washington, to then-No. 22 Fresno State and to unbeaten Texas-San Antonio.

The margins between victory and defeat are so slim at this point, Arroyo said. The Rebels (0-5) are a few mishaps away from a victory or two thus far.

“It’s the difference of a yard outside this alignment. The difference of staying in a lane on a kick return,” Arroyo said. “How we have to look at things really has to change and how we come to work. … I think guys understand and see that.”

Arroyo is right. There are positives.

True freshman quarterback Cameron Friel eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark in the loss to UTSA in his second start, connecting with playmakers Steve Jenkins, Kilinahe Mendiola-Jensen, Zyell Griffin and Kyle Williams. Senior running back Charles Williams has cracked 100 yards twice while running behind an offensive line that’s still working to find its way.

The Rebels sported the sixth-worst rushing defense in the FBS last season, allowing 255.5 yards per game. That figure this year is 165.2, a tangible sign of improvement.

“Guys have been focused on trying to get that win,” junior linebacker Jacoby Windmon said. “As the weeks go on, we’ve been focusing on fundamentals and technique. … We feel like that’s the 2 or 3 percent that’s stopping us from getting that win.”

The idle time afforded the Rebels an opportunity to focus on those things as they prepare for the rest of the season, knowing they can compete with the teams on their schedule.

“That bye week really helped us get our body and mind right,” Williams said. “It was also an extra week just to prepare for Utah State.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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