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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

It's really weird to feel good about a team that is 0-6 on the season, but that is kind of how I feel about this 2021 UNLV football team. Their latest loss is a 4th quarter collapse against Utah State by a score of 28-24. UNLV seemed in control throughout almost the entire game until the 4th quarter. The offense was moving the ball with Charles Williams putting up over 200 yards rushing, and backup QB Cameron Friel was looking good -- up until about midway through the third quarter, when Utah State's defense tightened up, started keying entirely on the run, and UNLV couldn't move the ball. In the meantime, Utah State pivoted their offense more towards the run, and even though UNLV's defense had been stout against the run earlier in the game, they suddenly started giving up big plays on the ground.

I thought for sure that a Utah State comeback would be through the air. UNLV's zone defense had huge gaps between the linebackers and safeties, and Utah State's receivers were finding those soft spots all throughout the first half. UNLV either needed to soften their zone coverages, and let Utah State have the underneath throws, or they needed to switch to more man coverage. But I didn't really get to see whether either of those adjustments would make a difference, since Utah State focused so heavily on the run in the second half.

Utah State rushing TD
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
UNLV had stuffed the run the entire first half, but Utah State powered through to win in the 4th.

This is the fourth game this season that UNLV has lost by one score, and the fifth game in which they've covered the point spread. Two of those games were against ranked opponents. Despite not having won a single game yet this year, this UNLV team is not getting blown out in the way that they have in years' past. I'm used to seeing scores like 45-20, in which the game is over by the start of the 4th quarter. This year though, UNLV has had a chance to win the game right up to the final drive. Despite the winless record, this feels like an improvement.

This leaves me in the confusing and frustrating position of wondering whether this 0-6 UNLV team is actually "good" -- or at least better than their 0-6 record would indicate.

The offense is moving the ball much more consistently than in the past, and the offense is doing that on both the ground and in the air. The defense has also been playing much better. Pass coverage is still iffy, and they still give up big plays late in the game, which have always been problems with this team. But this defense also has a sad history of giving up third and fourth down conversions, and giving up touchdowns in the red zone. They aren't doing those things this year. The defense is actually making its fair share of stops on third and fourth downs, and they're keeping opponents out of the end zone.

So I really don't know what to make of Marcus Arroyo as UNLV's head coach. Yeah this team is still finding heartbreaking ways to blow leads and lose games -- as they've always done. But they've also been competitive in all of their games, and they aren't making quite as many mistakes as they have historically made. So it's the worst win/loss record I've ever seen, but it's somehow also the best play-by-play performance that I ever remember seeing (excluding that Cinderella bowl run in 2013/14). Change the results of a handful of plays throughout this season, and UNLV has 3 (maybe 4) wins, including 1 or 2 against top-25 opponents!

Marcus Arroyo, UNLV head coach
Photo credit: Bizuayehu Tesfaye, Las Vegas Review Journal.
UNLV had stuffed the run the entire first half, but Utah State powered through to win in the 4th.

So should I feel good that they've been so close to winning? Or should I be furious that they are still finding ways to lose? Should I be celebrating a coach that is keeping his team fighting well into the 4th quarters of every game? Or calling for him to be fired for being unable to finish any games?

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