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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Earlier this week, both the Mountain West and MAC collegiate sports conferences announced that they were going to "indefinitely postpone" fall sports as a reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Both said that they are planning on rescheduling games for the spring if the pandemic has subsided. The Big Ten and PAC-12 followed up a day or two later by announcing that they will also cancel their fall sports season. The remaining power five conferences are currently planning on going through with their fall schedule.

The Big Ten specifically cited concerns over a condition called Myocarditis, which is a complication of the COVID-19 disease that leads to long-term or permanent heart problems. A number of players within the Big Ten have already been diagnosed with the condition following recoveries from COVID-19, and physicians are warning that the normal fall timeline would not give those players enough time to recover from the condition (assuming that they ever recover at all).

The cancellation of Mountain West football means that my alma mater, UNLV, won't be playing this year. 2020 was looking to be an especially exciting transitional year for the team, as they would be breaking in the fancy new Allegiant Stadium which was built for the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, and they would also be introducing a high profile new head coach in Marcus Arroyo. I was definitely looking forward to not having to sit out in the hot Las Vegas sun during those August, September, and October games.

I was looking forward to seeing Marcus Arroyo as the UNLV head coach.

That being said, I was also terrified of the idea of attending a sporting event during the midst of a pandemic. With the pandemic numbers in southern Nevada being as high as they are, my dad and I would probably have been forced to stay home for at least the first few games -- probably the whole season, since it doesn't look like the pandemic situation is going to improve at all. Even though I would certainly have had to chose to stay home in order to protect myself and my family, it was a decision that I really did not want to make. In that sense, I'm kind of relieved that the Mountain West conference let me off the hook by canceling the season.

Or at least, they delayed my decision. The cancellation is actually a "postponement". The league has said that they want to play the conference games in the fall. I assume the non-conference games would likely be cancelled altogether, unless the non-conference schools also decide to reschedule. But I'm not optimistic that the pandemic will be over in the spring. Instead, I suspect that we'll likely be on the tail end of a massive uptick in cases, as the normal fall and winter cold and flu season exacerbates the COVID-19 situation.

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Freshman Kenyon Oblad seemed to improve
considerably over the course of the season

I had given up on Tony Sanchez as UNLV's head coach early in the 2019 season. After failing to recognize that Armani Rogers just wasn't working out at QB, Sanchez waited until conference play had started before benching Rogers in favor of Kenyon Oblad. Oblad had an up and down season, but in my opinion, he showed early on that he was the better passer than Rogers. As I said in previously on this blog: UNLV doesn't need another runner; they need a quarterback.

UNLV ended up with a four-win season. I don't know if UNLV would have won another early game or two if they had played Oblad sooner. But I will say that I think Oblad got better over the course of the season, leading the team to two nail-biting (but ultimately meaningless) victories to close out the season. With another 2 or 3 games of experience early in the season, maybe he would have been playing better in the middle and late season, and maybe UNLV would actually have been able to pull out another win or two in conference play. We'll never know because Sanchez stubbornly kept Rogers in until after it was too late to salvage the season.

Tony Sanchez won't even get a single full season with the
Fertitta Football Training Complex that he helped build.

That being said, I do kind of feel bad for Sanchez. Despite his failings on the field, he was actually very successful off the field. His legacy with UNLV will be that he managed to drum up financial support for the team from friends and family, and he is the reason that UNLV now has its fancy, top of the line Fertitta Football Complex training facility. Unfortunately for Sanchez, that facility did not open until October of this year. Despite being the single biggest reason that training facility exists, Sanchez did not even have a single season in which to train his players there.

He's also missing out on the opportunity to coach the team in the Raiders new Las Vegas stadium. A part of me does feel like Sanchez maybe deserved one more year to be able to coach the team for a full season with these shiny new facilities and see what he could do with access to those resources. He worked hard to make them a reality for UNLV football, but he won't ever get a chance to reap their rewards.

UNLV hired Oregon's former offensive coordinator, Marcus Arroyo to a 5-year contract.

Instead, the honor of training UNLV's football team in the Fertitta Complex and coaching games in the Raiders' stadium will go to new UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo. Arroyo is the former offensive coordinator at Oregon, and he will be coaching the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day before he moves down to Vegas.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019 10:30 PM

I'm done defending Tony Sanchez

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

There was talk this off-season that this season would be a make-or-break season for UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez. Bowl or bust. If Sanchez and the Rebels could not put together six wins and make a bowl, then Sanchez would be shown the door, and UNLV would be looking for yet another head coach in its long, sad history of failed head coaches.

Tony Sanchez should be afraid for his job after embarrassing loss to Arkansas State.

Personally, I did not think that this was fair to Sanchez. Teams can often be too fire-happy. It's not like UNLV has a line of people applying for the head coaching job. They've tried pulling high-profile coaches out of retirement. They've tried hiring division II coaches. Those experiments all failed. Now they've sunk to hiring a high school coach with no collegiate coaching experience. What else is left for them to try? I guess if they get desperate enough, they could hire an amateur sports blogger... ahem...

All off-season, I was insisting that Sanchez' fate should not be decided on whether UNLV makes a bowl game or not. Instead, it should be decided by how competitive the team appears. If UNLV were to win 4 or 5 games, and miss a bowl, but their losses were all in close, competitive games, then I would have said that Sanchez deserves more time to recruit and right the ship.

But two games into the 2019 season, I am changing my tune.

UNLV did not look competitive -- or even competent in their 43-17 loss to Arkansas State -- a team from the Sun Belt conference. This wasn't a PAC team, or a Big 10 team, or a Big 12 team. This was a team that should have been on the same level as UNLV. This is a game that UNLV needed to win if it wanted to seriously contend for a bowl bid. Getting five wins within the conference is not going to happen. The Mountain West is actually looking like it might be pretty good this year. Boise, San Diego State, and Fresno are always good. That's to be expected. But Hawai'i had a big upset win against Arizona to open the season, Wyoming has racked up two wins against quality out-of-conference opponents, and Nevada upset Purdue (before being destroyed by Oregon).

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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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