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.
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. After that, UNLV's offense started to hit a rhythm, and Decker looked fantastic as he regularly completed passes down the field for big plays and first downs. But Boise held onto its 10-point lead, and UNLV couldn't muster up enough stops to close that gap.
UNLV's defense scored the team's first touchdown against Boise, and put some life into the team.
Decker also worried me with quite a few poor decisions to throw into coverage. In several instances, Decker seemed to throw receivers into coverage. Some play designs seemed to run two receivers to the same area of the field, resulting in three or four defenders converging on the throw. In one instance, Decker threw a ball into a swarm of four Bronco defenders, only to be bailed out by an amazing leaping catch from Devonte Boyd. Even though they dropped a few passes in the first quarter, the receivers really helped Decker out in the second and third quarters by making some very good grabs.
Receivers made Decker look
great after the first quarter.
In the third quarter, UNLV started to find some success in the running game as well, but just couldn't manage to punch any drives into the end zone. Eventually, the game came down to UNLV having first and goal, but failing to convert on fourth down to bring the game to within one score. From there, Boise went into blowout mode, scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter and shutting out UNLV's offense. The final score was 55-27, and Boise more than covered the point spread, but this was a surprisingly-competitive game for the first fifty minutes or so. A fourth quarter collapse like this is something that UNLV had avoided in the first half of the year, despite playing powerhouse teams like UCLA and Michigan, and it was very upsetting to see the team seem to fold in the fourth quarter two games in a row.
Now, UNLV sits at 2-6, with only 1 Mountain West win, and only four games remaining. A losing season is guaranteed, and a bowl game is out of the picture. These three losses were absolutely killer for this team, as winning any one of these last three games would have kept UNLV eligible for the post-season considering a very winnable set of four games to close out the season. Hawai'i, Colorado State, Sand Diego State, and Wyoming are all fairly weak teams.
I hope that UNLV continues to play hard for coach Sanchez in his first season. UNLV has played competitively all year long against some very hard opposition. A post-season appearance was probably always just a pipe dream, but a five or six win season (with all losses being hard-played) would still be a significant sign of improvement that would show that Sanchez is moving the team in the right direction.