The halfway point of the college football season has arrived. For some teams, preseason hype has been substantiated. Elsewhere, hopes and dreams are already crushed.
The sample set of games is now large enough to determine, with reasonable accuracy, what to expect going forward.
For UNLV, it hasn’t been pretty. There have been a handful of ups and a truckload of downs. To pinpoint where it all went wrong, a breakdown, unit by unit, is in order.
It’s report card time.
Starter Omar Clayton has had his struggles. He has already more than doubled his interception total from last season. He has moved the ball well, but hasn’t produced enough points.
Backup Mike Clausen has actually been much more productive than Clayton. He’s taken approximately half as many snaps, but has produced only two fewer TDs and eight fewer interceptions. Clayton gets a C-; Clausen earns a B.
As a unit, the RBs have averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry. Channing Trotter has impressed, punching in six TDs. Their lack of overall productivity stems more from lack of opportunity than ineffectiveness.
Trotter runs hard, frequently picks up yards after the initial contact, and has a knack for finding the end zone. If the coaching staff could get him more involved, and achieve some offensive balance, it would take a lot of pressure off of Clayton.
If Trotter was producing at the same rate, but getting 20+ carries a game, he’d be one of the top runners in the conference. Unfortunately, he loses points for having such a limited role in the offense.
Ryan Wolfe, Phillip Payne, Rodelin Anthony, Michael Johnson, and Jerriman Robinson are, collectively, a huge bright spot for UNLV.
Wolfe is the NCAA's active leader in career receptions, and is as consistent a receiver as a QB could ever want. He is among the nation's leaders in receptions per game. He's incredibly sure-handed, and, simply put, he moves the chains.
Payne and Anthony have been lethal in the red zone. They are both big and athletic, and have each hauled in four TDs.
Extra credit goes to Payne for his uncanny knack for making spectacular catches in close contest.
This quintet is clearly the strength of the team.
The line has had its struggles this year. The Rebels are 104th out of 120 teams in rushing offense. Far too many inside runs are getting stuffed. The line just isn’t creating enough running lanes.
They have done a better job in the passing game, allowing only 10 sacks in seven games. Several interceptions, however, have come as the result of protection breakdowns and rushed QB decisions. There is ample room for improvement.
The Rebels rank among the worst teams in the country in sacks, tackles for loss, and rushing yards allowed. They are not making plays in the opponent’s backfield. The lack of pressure on opposing QBs has allowed them to consistently shred the defense.
UNLV is in the bottom 15 nationally in turnovers forced, scoring defense, and overall defense. Their struggles trace back to ineffective line play.
The linebackers have accounted for more than half of the Rebels’ sacks on the year. Starr Fuimaono and Jason Beauchamp have both had brilliant stretches this year, but they have been few and far between.
While those two have struggled with injuries, the rest of the group has failed to make plays. The front seven has allowed too many long runs this year, and the safeties have been forced to make far too many tackles. Perhaps a healthy Beauchamp/Fuimaono combo would have produced different results.
This unit has produced more of the same: poor tackling, allowing big plays, too many penalties, and an overall poor effort. The Rebels have fared better against the pass than the run, but still leave much to be desired.
UNLV does not have a single legitimate interception all year. Both of their picks came on fourth down, and did nothing but cost the Rebels field position. It would certainly help if the opposing QB was ever under consistent pressure, but eventually, the secondary has to be able to make some plays of their own.
Kyle Watson has been excellent. He’s made all 22 extra points and is 6-7 on field goals. He’s also done a commendable job punting.
Deante Purvis’ kick return TD against BYU was a definite bright spot. In addition, UNLV has not allowed a special teams TD on the year.
They haven’t been perfect, but the special teams have been more than solid. The only thing that prevents an "A" grade is the botched hold that cost Watson the chance to kick a game tying field goal at Wyoming.
Mike Sanford is a dead horse. It seems rather pointless to continue to pummel him.
After a promising start, the last four games have been a comedy of errors.
Clock mismanagement, mental errors, lack of preparation, lack of discipline, poor play calling, unforced turnovers, complete defensive breakdowns—it’s been an embarrassing month for UNLV. It all falls under the Mike Sanford’s umbrella of responsibility.
With an underachieving team and a furious fanbase, consider Sanford’s welcome officially worn out.
Sports Illustrated predicted an 8-4 season for the Rebels. ESPN’s Mel Kiper pegged UNLV as a sleeper team. Various knowledgeable and respected sports entities had the Rebels as projected bowl participants.
After a 2-1 start, with the nearest of misses against Oregon State, a successful season seemed well underway.
Suddenly, everything went horribly wrong.
The Rebels stumbled against Wyoming in Laramie, and proceeded to get annihilated by three consecutive opponents. While salvaging the season is not impossible, a turnaround is highly improbable. The defense has been dreadful, the offense has been streaky. They haven’t been able to find a winning formula.
Another promising start turned sour, defying expectations and projections along the way, leaving those close to the program pondering the question, “What in the world happened?”
(At least one astute follower of UNLV football was not surprised.)
If the Rebels cannot break their 20-game conference road losing streak this Saturday at hapless New Mexico, they appear destined for complete failure. For now, they are hanging by the thinnest of threads.