Sunday, September 8, 2019 10:30 PM

I'm done defending Tony Sanchez

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
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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).

If UNLV couldn't compete with Arkansas State, then they aren't going to be able to compete within the division either. Right now, I'm expecting a two win season, assuming that UNLV can beat San Jose State -- which at this point, is far from certain.

UNLV doesn't need another runner, they need a quarterback

The biggest problem is with quarterback. Armani Rogers has not looked good at all. He lacks confidence. He's staring down his receivers and throwing into coverage. He isn't checking down when necessary. Even when he runs, he isn't showing the natural instinct that he displayed in his first two seasons. He's running right into sacks. He's also failing to read the blitzes and adjusting to them.

Coach Sanchez doesn't have any confidence in him either, which is why in the game against Arkansas State, Sanchez didn't call any more than 3 or 4 passes deeper than five yards. And he was calling running plays and read option in the second half when down by 30. So why is Rogers still in the game?

Armani Rogers had a rough night, and took a lot of hits.

To be fair to Rogers, his receivers and blockers weren't doing him any favors. All of the receivers dropped a number of passes against Arkansas State. And the blitzes that Rogers failed to recognize and adjust to also weren't picked up by the offensive line either.

Rogers struggled against Southern Utah as well. He showed many of the same problems early in that game, which forced Sanchez to shift almost entirely to running the ball. UNLV didn't beat Southern Utah because UNLV played well. They beat Southern Utah because they were the bigger and stronger team and were able to just run over Southern Utah. So when the sportsbooks released the odds, and UNLV was a 1.5 point favorite, I couldn't bet on Arkansas State fast enough. I would have assumed that Arkansas State would have been 10 or 14 points favorites, not 1-point dogs.

Watching that game last night, I could not believe that Rogers was still leading the offense in the second quarter -- let alone after coming back from halftime. I would have pulled him and replaced him with backup redshirted freshman Kenyon Oblad. Oblad played briefly in the Southern Utah game, and looked decent. He looked like a better (and more confident) passer than Rogers.

Both backups are probably better passers than Rogers.

When he finally got play time late in the fourth quarter, Oblad looked sharp. His throws were on-time and on-target. Or at least, that's what the radio announcers said, because my dad and I had left the game at the beginning of the fourth. Oblad completed all three of his passes for 70 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. Sure he was probably playing against Arkansas State's backups, but he definitely looks like the superior passer. UNLV already has two good running backs. They don't need a third running back in the backfield. They need a quarterback. Specifically, they need a quarterback who can do more than run read options and designed draws.

The rest of the team doesn't look competent either

If it were just poor play by Armani Rogers, then I wouldn't blame Sanchez. I'd blame Rogers. I don't know what Tony Sanchez is seeing in practice, but the games are definitely showing that Armani Rogers is struggling. Sanchez should have been playing Oblad and riding the hot hand, whoever it happened to be. The fact that he isn't recognizing Rogers' struggles and taking steps to address them is (as far as I'm concerned) a failure of coaching on his part.

Heck, even the third string quarterback, Max Gilliam might be a better passer than Armani Rogers!

But it isn't just the QB play that is holding back UNLV. Defense has been an Achilles' Heel of UNLV's football team for a long time -- specifically the deep pass coverage. Even Southern Utah knew and tried to exploit this weakness by taking numerous shots down field. They just didn't connect with many of them, and UNLV's front seven were able to get consistent pressure through Southern Utah's smaller, weaker offensive line.

When matched up against Arkansas State's offensive line (which is bigger and stronger than Southern Utah's), UNLV's front seven were not able to generate a pass rush at all. Even when Sanchez blitzed six or seven guys, Arkansas State had no trouble picking everyone up, and their quarterback had plenty of time to rollout and get the ball downfield.

In the second half, UNLV's coaches seemed to give up on generating pressure and stuck with a 3-man front, with everyone else dropping back into coverage. This gave Arkansas State a lot of room to run the ball. Even worse, UNLV's zone coverage schemes left huge holes for Arkansas State to exploit, so they didn't slow down the pass anyway.

Throw in a number of special teams screw ups, such as the punter drilling a punt into the visitor section of the stands, and we have a UNLV team that looked incompetent at every level.

Assuming that Sanchez still has the head coaching job going into next week's game against Northwestern, I hope (and expect) to either see significant improvement from Armani Rogers, or see Kenyon Oblad in as the starting quarterback. It's still early enough to salvage the season if UNLV can find personnel and a scheme that works. Sanchez' job depends on it.

Halfback Charles Williams has been the sole bright spot for UNLV early in 2019.

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