The football gods gave UNLV every opportunity to win on Saturday afternoon against the Air Force Academy Falcons. The whole game was defined by fumbles, and virtually all of them bounced in UNLV's favor. Half a dozen Air Force fumbles were recovered by UNLV. Air Force botched a field goal snap. There was even a gust of wind that pulled a kickoff such that it hit the ground in front of the returner and then bounced backwards right into the hands of the incoming UNLV coverage team -- which was either the craziest fluke play that I've seen in a long time, or it's the most genius onside kick that I've seen in a long time.

UNLV vs Air Force - fumbles
The game was defined by fumbles, and UNLV was the beneficiary of almost all of them!

UNLV's 27-7 halftime lead wasn't really a case of them beating Air Force. The ball was literally being gift-wrapped (sometimes by Air Force, sometimes by blind luck) and handed to UNLV. They were the beneficiaries of constant mistakes by Air Forces and lucky bounces. But this undeserved lead also wasn't enough to guarantee the victory, as I smelled trouble as soon as UNLV stepped onto the field in the second half. The offense failed to move the ball, and the defense couldn't slow down Air Force's triple option attack. Even though the defense got plenty of rest in the first half of the game due to Air Force's constant fumbles, they still looked exhausted throughout the second half of the football game.

Perhaps the game-deciding play was the single instance in which the ball didn't bounce in UNLV's favor. After being completely shut down in the second half, Armani Rogers finally ripped off a big run in Air Force territory and looked like he might turn momentum back in favor of the Rebels. But he fumbled in Air Force territory, the ball bounced towards the Air Force goal line, and the ball slipped through the hands of two Rebel players before finally being downed in the end zone by Air Force. A Rebel even had the ball in his hand at the goaline, but a Falcon defender swiped it out of his grasp at the last instant, forcing the ball into the end zone where a Falcon fell on it. The play was even reviewed to see if the recovering Rebel had broken the plane before the ball was swiped. He was not...

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Every year, I hope that UNLV's football team will show some improvements. That it won't repeat the same mistakes that it's made year after year.

But every year, UNLV finds a way to let an easily winnable game slip away early in the season, setting a tone of disappointment for the entire season. Usually, UNLV at least gets its first game or two against a power conference team and gets to raise an illusion of optimism by playing surprisingly well until they inevitably get overpowered in the fourth quarter.

UNLV vs Howard - Caylin Newton
Cam Newton's little brother, Caylin, thrashed UNLV with his legs in a 43-40 upset.

But this year, the tone-setting upset couldn't even wait past week one. In fact, it couldn't even make it past the first play of the season. UNLV opened its 2017 season by going offsides on the opening kickoff. They went on to play a mistake-filled game that Howard University exploited to a 43-40 victory -- the biggest upset against a point spread in college football history. A $100 bet on Howard to win outright would have won you $55,000.

UNLV lacked discipline, committing multiple procedural penalties that killed drives and put UNLV in a hole early. They lacked energy and couldn't contain freshman quarterback Caylin Newton (Cam Newton's younger brother) who dominated UNLV with his running ability. And UNLV gave up back-breaking fumbles that prevented momentum from swinging back in their favor.

UNLV seemed to have a lot going for them going into this season. UNLV had one of the top running games last season. The defensive line is supposed to be improved. Star receiver Devonte Boyd is back from a severe injury that prematurely ended his 2016 campaign, and he has a hyped up freshman quarterback throwing him the ball.

The offense did show some promise. Rogers and Boyd connected on some big passes, and the running game looked pretty good. They even met their goal of 40 points per game!

UNLV vs Howard - Devonte Boyd
Armani Rogers and Devonte Boyd hooked up for a couple big plays.

The defense, however, looked abysmal. From the start, they showed a frustrating lack of energy. They lost contain, missed open-field tackles, and couldn't get to Caylin Newton in the pocket. From the start of the game, the defense looked like it was tired, as if it had already gone through three quarters of ground-and-pound football. Howard had even recognized that UNLV's greatest weakness is likely to be its secondary and coverage against the deep pass. Howard took a number of shots down the field, but was never able to connect. Kudos to Howard's coaches for identifying that vulnerability and designing a gameplan to exploit it, but they didn't have to exploit UNLV's obvious weakness, because even the supposed strengths of the defense looked rusty and full of holes...

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UNLV football fans were riding high earlier last month after the team's record-breaking victory against Idaho State, and the nail-biting victory against rival Nevada the following week. UNLV was going into a pair of winnable games against Mountain West opponents San Jose State and Fresno State, and there was a very real possibility (and expectation) that UNLV could go 3-0 in Mountain West play and go into last week's Boise State game to determine first place in the conference. I don't think anybody expected that UNLV could have beaten Boise State, but Boise's debacle against Utah State certainly left doubts about that team's ability.

But it doesn't matter, UNLV managed to blow the games against San Jose and Fresno in the fourth quarter. A potential 4-3 start to the season fell to a pathetic 2-5, right in line with pre-season predictions from skeptics. UNLV has certainly shown that they have the ability to play well and win games, but in traditional UNLV fashion, they still can't muster up the discipline to pull through at the end of the game.

UNLV blew two fourth quarter leads to San Jose State and Fresno State to fall to 2-5 on the season.

The overtime loss to San Jose State was pretty heartbreaking. Watching UNLV completely fail to cover that last-minute screen pass for the game-tieing touchdown was a punch in the gut. A win would have given UNLV a respectable 3-3 record overall, but instead, they walked out 2-4. The team put up a good fight, especially considering the limitations of backup quarterback Kurt Palandech. The comeback effort was admirable, but UNLV just couldn't get it done in overtime. The following week's game was probably more disappointing. UNLV walked into the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead over Fresno State and looked to have the game well in hand. But the offense just couldn't execute in the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs managed to put together a couple scoring drives to strip the victory from between UNLV's fingers.

A lot of the expectations for the team were squashed going into the game against Boise State, but I still held out some hope for a surprise upset. Starting quarterback Blake Decker was back from injury, and Boise looked vulnerable to mistakes. If UNLV's defense could contain Boise's offense, then UNLV might have a chance. Unfortunately, UNLV's defense just couldn't do enough. Boise cut through UNLV's defense like butter in the first quarter, putting together three scoring drives to open the game. In the meantime, UNLV's offense sputtered thanks to a proliferation of dropped passes.

Keys dropped pass
Dropped passes prevented UNLV from sustaining drives in the first quarter against Boise.

UNLV seemed to have given up on even trying to run the ball, as almost every play seemed to be a pass. It felt like UNLV went into halftime with three total rushing yards. Eventually, the defense made a big play, forcing a fumble that UNLV recovered in the end zone for UNLV's first touchdown...

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Saturday, September 26, 2015 02:40 PM

Sanchez's UNLV breaks records in first victory

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
Sam Boyd Stadium 2015
The field at Sam Boyd Stadium has also been redecorated to match UNLV's new uniforms.

Expectations were high for UNLV's 2015 football season after the hiring of National High School Champion Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez. Sanchez spent the off season trying to rebrand the team with new uniforms (and a new field) that embrace the unique culture and history of the city of Las Vegas. But UNLV would have to survive a brutal non-conference schedule that included a nationally-ranked opponent.

Sanchez's team looked promising in the first half of its opening game, as they got off to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter against Northern Illinois. They also got off strong against 13th-ranked UCLA, holding them to only 10 points up until almost halftime. Unfortunately, the Rebels lost both those games due to second-half collapses, and they began to look like the same ol' Rebels. In fact, in the UCLA game, UNLV's starting quarterback, Blake Decker, left the game with an injury in the first half, and the offense wasn't able to do anything under the command of backup quarterback Kurt Palandech. UNLV also faltered against MIchigan, against whom the offense was only able to score a single touchdown. However, in all of these games, UNLV was far more competitive than they were expected to be. The defense played surprisingly well in all three games, but was worn down by their overpowered opponents and the inability of UNLV's offense to move the ball.

So I had no clue what to expect going into UNLV's home game against FCS opponent Idaho State this past weekend. I've witnessed some embarrassing defeats at the hands of FCS teams in year's past, and it was really hard to tell if UNLV's offense was completely incompetent, or if the teams that they played against in their first three games were just that much better. Hopefully, UNLV would be able to score against Idaho State. And score they did!

Devonte Boyd TD catch vs Northern Illinois
UNLV got off to a hot, 17-3 start in the opener against Northern Illinois, but the offense had floundered since.

After quickly turning the opening possession into seven points due to a blown coverage by Idaho State, UNLV's offense failed to do anything in its next couple drives. In the meantime, Idaho State put together some pretty impressive passes to wide open receivers, but was unable to score. The game blew wide open midway through the first quarter though, when UNLV blocked an Idaho State field goal and turned it into another touchdown. After that, UNLV ran away with the game, ending the first quarter with 35 points and going into halftime with a 52-8 lead. UNLV would go on to win the game by a score of 80 to 8, setting school records for most points scored in a quarter, most points scored in a half, and most points scored in a game. The previous school record was 72 points in a game. UNLV's 80-point night also sets a Mountain West Conference scoring record, beating Air Force's previous record, which was also 72.

I've certainly never seen such a dominating performance by UNLV, and it really blew me away. Maybe Sanchez really is turning the program around...

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UNLV football - 2015 uniforms

Another year, another head coach, and another set of uniforms for UNLV's football program. The school, and head coach Tony Sanchez, recently unveiled new uniform concepts for the football team's 2015 season.

I, personally, liked the uniforms that were worn between 2009 and 2011 and was disappointed when Bobby Hauck changed them in 2012. The 2009 uniforms were simple and elegant and showcased school pride with the large-print "REBELS" across the chest and large logos on the sleeves and pants. Furthermore, the gray shoulders provided a good contrast against the red of the body of the jersey in the bright Las Vegas sun, and the whole scheme was unique in college football.

There was definitely some room for improvement. Some of the colors could have been tweaked. The helmets were also especially ugly. But overall I liked these uniforms. They were distinctly UNLV's.

The uniforms from 2009-2011 [LEFT] had a distinctive pattern and prominent school logos.
The uniforms in 2012-2014 [RIGHT] could easily be mistaken for Ohio State.

By comparison, the 2012 uniforms looked like hand-me-downs from Ohio State. On their own, the uniforms looked fine with their very retro-classic look, but they just weren't distinctive at all. The "REBELS" print on the chest was minimized, the school logos were removed, and the uniform lacked the school pride that I thought the previous ones showed so well. However, I didn't much care for the 2009 helmets, and I thought that the 2012 helmets were a stark improvement with the stripes and easier-to-read "UNLV" logo. I also liked the Reno variant helmets that included the Freemont Cannon under the logo, even though I hated the all-gray uniform variant itself.

I like that these new 2015 uniforms retain the large-print "REBELS" text of the 2009 ones. The large Hey Reb logo on the shoulders and the UNLV logo on the pants also helps to bring back the sense of displaying school pride that was absent from the 2012 versions.

However, I strongly dislike how monochrome all the uniforms are! I don't know what it is with football's current fascination with monochrome ...

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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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