UNLV Running Rebels logo

The Raiders may have already played home games in Allegiant Stadium, starting with a victory on a Monday night against the Saints on September 21. But the Raiders have so far played without any fans in the stands. Allegiant Stadium opened its doors to the first fans this weekend when the Nevada Wolfpack came to town to play the UNLV Rebels football team.

Back in the summer, the Mountain West conference had announced the postponement of the football season until next spring. For a while, it seemed like UNLV would not be the team to open up Allegiant Stadium after all. However, after the NFL, SEC, and a couple other college football conferences began play in September with strict social distancing protocols in effect and a [thankfully] relatively low number of incidents, the Mountain West decided to reverse course and move play back up to the end of October. The Raiders may have played the first game there, but it was still UNLV who opened the stadium to fans.

Photo by: Isaac Brekken via Associated Press.
The Raiders played their first Las Vegas home game in an empty Allegiant Stadium.

Unfortunately, despite the new head coach and the new stadium, UNLV is still the same old Rebels. The team has been completely unable to produce offense in its first two games, gaining a measly total of 25 yards in the entire first half of the opening game against San Diego State, and finishing the game with only 6 points (due to a missed extra point), while also rotating between three different quarterbacks. Coach Marcus Arroyo seems to have settled on Max Gilliam as the starting quarterback going into the game against Nevada, and the offense performed better, putting up 348 total yards on offense and 19 points in a 37-19 loss.

Marcus Arroyo was the offensive coordinator for an explosive Oregon football team in 2019, so the hope was that he would bring that explosiveness to UNLV, allowing the team to keep up in offensive production and scoring with its high-powered Mountain West opponents. So far that has not panned out. The season is still young, and it's unclear if the disappointing start is due to Arroyo failing to live up to his promise, a lack of talent on the team, the disruptions of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (and lack of training camp and other team activities), or some combination of the above. I'm not going to condemn Arroyo after two games, least of all in this miserably, topsy-turvy year of 2020.

Photo by: Rudy Garcia via Las Vegas Sun.
UNLV was the first team to host fans at Allegiant Stadium.

That being said, I was not impressed with Arroyo's play-calling in that San Diego State game. He repeatedly called screen passes to wide receivers, despite San Diego State being on top of those plays each and every time. Either San Diego State knew those plays were coming and specifically prepared for them, or UNLV's offense telegraphed them far too clearly for them to work. The fact that Arroyo kept calling them, and didn't have some counter play prepared in case they didn't work made me worried about how he's scheming this offense. With San Diego driving on those screens every time, I would have liked to have seen an early pump fake to the screen, followed by a deep shot down the field. This would either catch the defense overreacting to the screen, or to force the defense to have to play back a bit and give those screens a bit more room to breath. I don't recall seeing such a play call in that game.

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A perfect microcosm of UNLV's 2018 season existed in the first possessions of that game against Nevada. On its first drive, UNLV had a 3rd down and 4, and a 4th down and 4, that they failed to convert. Both failures were off of 50/50 balls that were thrown deep along the sideline.

On its first drive, Nevada had a similar situation, in which it had to convert a 3rd and 3 (or 4) and later a 4th and 2. They succeeded on both conversions by throwing short drag routes to wide open tight ends. In both cases, the tight end broke the play for a big gain, and the 4th down wasn't just converted for a first, it was converted for a touchdown.

Now, we could chalk all this up to poor execution by UNLV. But it's not just poor execution; it's bad play-calling. UNLV is one of the best rushing teams in the nation (they are ranked 22nd now, but I think they were 30-somethingth going into the game), but they couldn't trust their running game to convert a 3rd and short/medium? Worse yet, instead of calling a safe drag route, or quick out, or getting the running back open in the flats, they threw up two 50/50 balls down the sideline? I could understand trying to take the shot play on 3rd down if you are already expecting to go for it on 4th. A good stop-and-go route could catch the defense biting on the short pass and leave a receiver open for a big play. But why would you try the same failed concept again on 4th down?

Sanchez routinely squanders convertible 3rd downs by calling 50/50 passes down the field.

This is typical of UNLV this season. I can't count how many times I've watched UNLV squander a convertable 3rd down on a failed jump ball along the sideline, or on the QB overthrowing a receiver running a post route down the middle of the field. Drive after drive, game after game, they just refused to call a play designed to get 4, 5, or 6 yards and the first down, and instead called plays down the field.

Is the coach calling plays on 3rd and short/medium that are intended to go down the field? Or is the QB just making bad reads and not throwing to the underneath receivers? Either the coaches are calling the wrong plays, or the QB isn't being coached to be aware of the situation. That's bad coaching, either way. Get the first down first, then you'll have three more plays to take shots down the field.

Excuses, excuses

Somehow, UNLV managed to pull off an upset, come-from-behind victory to beat Nevada 34-29, after having been down 23-0 early in the second quarter. The team is currently celebrating by painting the Fremont Cannon red, while coach Tony Sanchez gets ready to start hitting the recruiting trail.

UNLV came back from a 23-0 2nd quarter deficit to beat Nevada and bring home the Fremont Cannon.

In the meantime, however, UNLV's higher-ups are mulling over whether or not to keep Sanchez on for the 2019 season. UNLV was expected to win six or seven games in 2018 and make a bowl bid, but they ended the season with only four wins.

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Raiders logo

The Raiders and Las Vegas announced months ago that the deal to move the Raiders to my hometown of Las Vegas has been finalized. I didn't write about it at the time because there was still a lot of unknowns. As you all may know, I was not initially receptive to the stadium financing plan. The city of Las Vegas went all in and basically gave the Raiders almost everything they asked for. Las Vegas would raise room taxes on tourists in order to pay for the largest portion of the stadium's construction budget. The Raiders looked like they'd be given numerous tax breaks (including tax-free bonds and property tax exemptions). It looked like the Raiders would even get out of having to pay rent for the stadium (which is supposed to be owned by the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, rather than by the Raiders themselves).

Being a UNLV alumni and a UNLV football season ticket-holder, a lot of my early frustrations were with the Raiders' (and the city's) insulting treatment of UNLV's football team. UNLV had been unsuccessfully lobbying for years with the city of Las Vegas to get funding for a new stadium. That UNLV stadium came close to happening. It was hoped that having a shiny new stadium on or near campus would increase attendance, allow UNLV to recruit higher-caliber ball-players, and maybe even potentially attract an NFL team (like the Raiders, Rams, or Chargers) to relocate to Las Vegas. Those plans fell apart, as the city simply couldn't afford such a project, and the Rebels didn't help matters by continuing to disappoint with two-win seasons. Then the Raiders come along, and not only does the city give them virtually everything they ask for, but the Raiders also tried to screw UNLV out of even being able to realistically use the stadium that was being mostly paid for by public funds.

UNLV had been unsuccessfully lobbying for a new stadium [LEFT] for years,
then the Raiders [RIGHT] show up and the city bends over backwards to accommodate them.

The Raiders initially wanted UNLV to pay a $250,000 stadium rental fee per game! This is despite the fact that the largest chunk of funding was supposed to come from public money generated by Las Vegas taxes, and that the stadium was to be technically owned by the LV Stadium Authority. If this were a public stadium (as proponents often insisted it would be), then the local public university shouldn't be paying a private corporation for use of the property. In addition to wanting money from UNLV, the Raiders also didn't want to allow UNLV to paint the turf or have any permanent UNLV branding in the stadium. Essentially, the Raiders didn't want to share this stadium that was being paid for with public funds.

A final concern was with parking and traffic infrastructure. Las Vegas' highways are already over-taxed (and perpetually being torn apart and expanded), and the stadium was supposed to be built in an area of town that already suffers from a lot of congestion. ...

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With this weekend's loss to a two-win (now three-win) Nevada team, UNLV will end the 2017 season with a record of 5-7 -- one win shy of the 6-6 record that is usually the threshold for qualifying for a bowl bid. UNLV failed to execute on third downs throughout the game, settling for multiple field goals and failing on several fourth down conversions that ended up deciding the game. The Fremont Cannon will remain blue for at least one more year.

UNLV @ Nevada 2018 - tackle
UNLV couldn't convert key third and fourth downs in their loss to Nevada.
By the way, Nevada Wolfpack: nice helmets.

The big question is: even if UNLV had won the game and ended the season 6-6, would hey still deserve a bowl invitation?

If you ask me, the answer would be "no".

The 2017 season has been defined by disappointment and a dash of embarassment, starting with their week 1 loss to Howard. UNLV also gave up a huge lead to Air Force to lose that game. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of UNLV's season; that was where I gave up hope. But UNLV also dropped a game to a three-win BYU team and a four-win Utah State team. UNLV only had one upset win of their own, against a heavily-favored Fresno State team that ended its season with nine wins.

For me, it was those multiple, embarrassing losses that defined the season, rather than the one upset victory.

Even if UNLV had beat Nevada, they still may not have received a bowl invite. There's apparently a lot of 6-6 teams in the NCAA this year, and not enough bowls for them all to get invites. So UNLV may have been snubbed anyway. I certainly wouldn't have selected this team if I were on a bowl-selection committee.

Turning the corner yet?

Even though this season was disappointing, it does appear to have shown a lot of improvement, and there were definitely some positive moments. Senior quarterback (and converted linebacker) Johnny Stanton played well during a mid-season period in which Armani Rodgers was injured. Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams lead one of the most productive rushing attacks in the nation, along with the option-running legs of Armani Rodgers. The offense had a lot of good performances...

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Back in April, I expressed my dissapproval of the Raiders plan to relocate to Las Vegas. At the time, my primary objection was to the idea of building an NFL-size stadium adjacent to UNLV's campus. But as time has moved on, the plans have shifted, and the city has come up with new location proposals for the $1.9 billion stadium, as well as new financing plans. Last week, the Nevada State Legislature, on the order of Governor Brian Sandovall, convened a special session to vote on the proposed stadium financing plan. The successful vote was a win for the Raiders' plan to relocate, but was a major loss for the city of Las Vegas and state of Nevada.

Here is a video of the proposed stadium, which appears to be located near Russel Rd, west of the I-15.

The finance plan requires the city of Las Vegas to raise $750 million in funds from a hike in room taxes for its hotels. This leaves taxpayers supposedly off the hook by passing the bill onto tourists. Critics have complained that this takes money away from Las Vegas schools and other public infrastructure and services, but this criticism is a bit of a red herring, as there were no plans to collect such revenues and spend them on schools or other services to begin with. Critics are valid in pointing out, however, that this does take that money away from potentially being collected for the purposes of funding education or services in the future.

The city, tourists, and UNLV all get screwed

I would be fine with this $750 million price tag if the plan guaranteed some degree of revenue or profit-sharing for the city of Las Vegas. It would be an up-front investment with the potential of paying for itself over the long-term. No such fortune for us Vegas residents. This is a bum deal for the city of Las Vegas, however, as the plan does not allow for any revenue or profit-sharing from the proceeds that the stadium may gain. So public money is being spent on the project, but no money is going back to the public. Sheldon Adelson and Mark Davis are both billionaires. If they really wanted the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, they can afford to build their own damn stadium.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson
Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson are both billionaires. They can afford to build their own damn stadium.

What really sours this deal though is that it also presents some other "screw you"-s to the city of Las Vegas. The plan to build a new stadium started out as a plan to build a new stadium for UNLV's football program. But UNLV gets screwed by this deal, as they will actually have to pay approximately $250,000 per game to the stadium's owners in order to play their home games there! They'd have to pay $250,000 per game to "rent" this facility! "Public stadium", my ass! If Las Vegas is raising tax money to pay for this stadium (and we're paying for almost half of the entire bill), then it should belong to the City of Las Vegas or Clark County. If it belonged to Las Vegas, then our public university (UNLV) should be able to use the facility, and should get revenue from ticket sales. Not so, apparently. Make no mistake, this is not Las Vegas' stadium; this is Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson's stadium.

We don't get the stadium; we only get the debt. NFL teams have a long, sad history of screwing cities with stadium deals...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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