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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.

Sanchez and his apologists will cite the injury to Armani Rogers as having derailed the season. But I'm sick of hearing that excuse. UNLV got torched by Air Force's third string quarterback. Don't talk to me about an injured QB derailing the season. Besides, UNLV was built as a running team, not a passing team, and backup Max Gillium is probably the better passer anyway. It took Max a couple games to get going, but once he did, he played well. Not well enough to win games, but again, this team wasn't built to be a passing team.

Sanchez and his apologists might also mention that 2018 is the first season in which Sanchez's team won fewer games than it had the previous season. UNLV went 5-7 in 2017, and had its bowl hopes dashed by a two-win Nevada team. So maybe this is one speed bump on the road to success, and the overall trend has been positive so far.

I don't really buy that either. UNLV was un-competitive in most of its games this year, and it wasn't because of lackluster play by a backup QB. It was because the defense couldn't stop anything all season long. Bad defense has been a hallmark of UNLV football for as long as I can remember, and Sanchez hasn't done anything to change that in his four years with the team.

It wasn't bad play by backup QB Max Gilliam that derailed UNLV's season. It was abysmal defensive play

The focus should be on defense

Now, it might sound like I want Sanchez to be fired, but that isn't actually the case. I think he deserves one more season. I like the energy that Sanchez has brought to the team. I like the flair that he's brought to the uniforms and field markings. Even though I prefer the 2009-2011 jerseys, I do like how Sanchez's uniforms utilize some of the unique aesthetics of the city of Las Vegas. That new logo is pretty bad, though.

I do not much care for this alternate logo.

I also feel that the team has had more of an identity under Sanchez. It isn't just the Vegas-inspired uniforms and field decals; it's also in the way that the team has established itself as a dominant power running team. Now they just need a defense to match.

So it isn't necessarily the case that I want Sanchez gone. What I want is for him to learn from his mistakes and get better. I'm sick of UNLV hiring a new coach every five years and having to start over from scratch. That isn't good for the players, and it certainly doesn't help with recruiting. Nobody wants to play for a school if they don't trust that the coach who recruited them is still going to be there when the player graduates in four or five years.

What I want is for defense to be Coach Sanchez's primary recruiting goal for the next year or two. If UNLV does fire Sanchez and has to look for another coach, I hope they find somebody who is a defensive-minded head coach.

Defense has been the Achilles Heel of this team for so long, and I don't think we're ever going to be a consistent program until defense becomes a coaching and recruiting priority. It doesn't matter that UNLV was scoring almost 30 points per game this year, because they were giving up almost 40. If UNLV is going to lose, I'd rather that the games remain relatively low-scoring and close. I'd much rather lose 16-9 than 50-21. At least in a low-scoring game, you're never more than a couple big plays from winning the game. A single kick return, or pick-six, or fumble could be all it takes to take the lead in such a game. But if the other team is putting up 40 or 50 points, you'll need a lot more than a single big play in order to keep pace.

If Sanchez continues to be unable to coach this defense into shape, then he should be fired! And this is actually the biggest reason why I think Sanchez might not be the right fit. From what I understand, he's very hands-off when it comes to defense. Maybe that needs to change?

Oh, also, I'm definitely in favor of moving the UNLV - Nevada rivalry game to Nevada Day weekend, just as long as it's in the afternoon and doesn't interfere with Halloween parties and/or trick-or-treating.

Sanchez may have secured his job with the comeback win over Nevada.

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