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 Freemont 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...

[More]

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...

[More]

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...

[More]
Star Wars the Force Awakens - title

So where do I start ...?

... With the Mary Sue protagonist?

... Or the McGuffin plot device?

... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?

... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?

... Or how about the other fan-service?

... Or the shallow character arcs?

... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?

... How about the weak, forgettable original score?

... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?

Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?

Star Wars the Force Awakens - running from TIE assault
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.

Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!

So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?

And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - X-wings incoming
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?

The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. [More]

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...

[More]
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A gamer's life...

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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