Sanford, UNLV Rebels Take a Step in the Wrong Direction

Chris GolightlyCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2009

In spite of the official arrival of fall this week, the people of Las Vegas are still enduring sweltering 100+ degree temperatures.


However, none of the city's residents will be feeling the heat quite as intensely as UNLV Head Coach Mike Sanford.


UNLV dropped it's 20th consecutive conference road game Saturday, a 30-27 loss at the hands of Wyoming.


The Rebels demonstrated progress last year, and Sanford signed a contract extension in the offseason. Despite this gesture of faith from the administration, the consensus among those close to the program is that Sanford's future at UNLV was far from secure. 


It is a make or break season for Sanford. Saturday afternoon in Laramie, the Rebels bowl hopes took a crushing blow.


UNLV outplayed Wyoming for most of the game, but made costly error after costly error, and eventually, their chance at victory slipped away.


Wyoming deserves credit for a praiseworthy performance. Austyn Carta-Samuels was dynamic.  The true freshman played like a fifth year senior, displaying creativity; repeatedly buying time with his legs and making plays with his arm.


Carta-Samuels entered the game completing less than half his passes, with zero TDs on the year. He shredded the UNLV defense, going 24-37 for 234 yards and three TDs. He also rushed for 34 yards.


It was a head scratching performance by the Rebels. They turned the ball over four times, and forced none from Wyoming. They have forced a paltry two turnovers through four games.


Despite sloppy and erratic play on both sides of the ball, the Rebels were in great position to escape with a win. Late in the fourth quarter and trailing by three, QB Omar Clayton led the offense down the field an into scoring position. The drive stalled at the Wyoming 28 yard line.


On fourth-and-three Sanford faced a tough decision. The Rebel offense had moved the ball well throughout the game, and the defense had struggled to contain the Cowboys. A strong argument could be made to keep the ball in Clayton's hands, and give him a chance to win the game.


As he has so many times in the past, Sanford played conservative. Ultimately, the decision cost them the game.  


After a timeout, Sanford sent in the field goal unit. Inexplicably, UNLV allowed the play clock to expire before they could snap the ball. Fourth-and-three became fourth-and-eight, and a 45-yard field goal attempt became a 50-yard field goal attempt. 


Kyle Watkins, whose career-long is 39 yards, never got the chance to kick it. The hold was bobbled, and the Rebels turned the ball over on downs.


UNLV now sits at 2-2. Next week, they travel to Reno to take on a winless UNR team that is desperate for a victory. Next, the Rebels return to Las Vegas for back to back games with conference front runners BYU and Utah. It is a three game stretch sure to test the mettle of Sanford and his players.


Entering the season, Sanford was desperate to change the culture of UNLV football. Throughout the four years he has been at the helm, the Rebels have been plagued by sloppy defense, careless turnovers, puzzling coaching decisions, and a painfully frustrating inability to win close games.


The Rebels are in serious danger of enduring another long, exasperating year. Sanford needs to turn it around fast. It might be his last opportunity to do so.