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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.

UNLV also benefited tremendously from poor performance from Howard's kickers, but couldn't leverage the advantage of superior field position. Both Howard's punter and kicker looked terrible and have very poor range. The kicker had trouble getting the ball past the second line of UNLV's kick return team, but Coach Sanchez never adjusted by shifting his players forward or treating every Howard kickoff as if it were an onside kick. It cost us a big turnover on a muffed kickoff on the 40 yard line in the third quarter. UNLV regularly started drives near midfield and frequently had Howard pinned deep in its own territory. But that field position advantage didn't translate to a win because UNLV couldn't stop Newton's triple read option, and offense couldn't convert third downs and complete drives.

UNLV lost by three points. That's after having to settle for field goals on three drives, after missing two more field goals, after giving up a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, and after giving up two more fumbles on drives that should have been converted into points. UNLV beat themselves, taking every opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot.

Next week, UNLV goes to Idaho to play a team that upset us in overtime last year in the fourth week of the season. I don't have any expectations that UNLV will win that game either. I had expected four or five wins from UNLV this year, but if the team is going to put out this weak of an effort, then I'm skeptical that they can win more than one or two games. It won't matter that the offense can put up 40 points per game if the defense can't even stop a mediocre, one-dimensional offense from scoring 50 or 60.

As for Howard, I hope they go on to have a fantastic season. I'd feel a lot better if it turns out that Howard is just a much better team than the 45-point handicap suggested they should be. I also wouldn't be surprised if Caylin Newton gets some second looks from some NFL scouts after his performance this weekend.

Black is not an historic uniform color for UNLV. Start winning before you waste money on ugly novelty uniforms.

Maybe Coach Sanchez should spend more time on fundamentals and prepration instead of designing gimmicky and ugly uniform variants. I mean, what's the point of wearing a throwback helmet if the rest of the uniform looks nothing like the team's historic duds? You couldn't even dress the team in their historic school colors! We're going to have plenty of black and gray when the Raiders come to town. I want to see UNLV wearing scarlet and gray. Save the ugly (and expensive) uniform variants for after the team starts winning. Coach Sanchez, you're not at Bishop Gorman anymore. You aren't playing with the most elite talent pool available at your level of play, such that your team can walk onto the field, go through the motions, and coast to a victory. You need to get the most out of these players every week. You need to make sure that these kids are prepared and that their heads are in the game, and you aren't doing that.

Coach Sanchez, if you have some spare time while preparing for next week's game, you might want to polish up your LinkedIn profile a bit. Turn in a couple more performances like this, and you may be looking for another high school gig.

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