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.

Keys dropped pass
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...

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Saturday, September 26, 2015 02:40 PM

Sanchez's UNLV breaks records in first victory

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
Sam Boyd Stadium 2015
The field at Sam Boyd Stadium has also been redecorated to match UNLV's new uniforms.

Expectations were high for UNLV's 2015 football season after the hiring of National High School Champion Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez. Sanchez spent the off season trying to rebrand the team with new uniforms (and a new field) that embrace the unique culture and history of the city of Las Vegas. But UNLV would have to survive a brutal non-conference schedule that included a nationally-ranked opponent.

Sanchez's team looked promising in the first half of its opening game, as they got off to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter against Northern Illinois. They also got off strong against 13th-ranked UCLA, holding them to only 10 points up until almost halftime. Unfortunately, the Rebels lost both those games due to second-half collapses, and they began to look like the same ol' Rebels. In fact, in the UCLA game, UNLV's starting quarterback, Blake Decker, left the game with an injury in the first half, and the offense wasn't able to do anything under the command of backup quarterback Kurt Palandech. UNLV also faltered against MIchigan, against whom the offense was only able to score a single touchdown. However, in all of these games, UNLV was far more competitive than they were expected to be. The defense played surprisingly well in all three games, but was worn down by their overpowered opponents and the inability of UNLV's offense to move the ball.

So I had no clue what to expect going into UNLV's home game against FCS opponent Idaho State this past weekend. I've witnessed some embarrassing defeats at the hands of FCS teams in year's past, and it was really hard to tell if UNLV's offense was completely incompetent, or if the teams that they played against in their first three games were just that much better. Hopefully, UNLV would be able to score against Idaho State. And score they did!

Devonte Boyd TD catch vs Northern Illinois
UNLV got off to a hot, 17-3 start in the opener against Northern Illinois, but the offense had floundered since.

After quickly turning the opening possession into seven points due to a blown coverage by Idaho State, UNLV's offense failed to do anything in its next couple drives. In the meantime, Idaho State put together some pretty impressive passes to wide open receivers, but was unable to score. The game blew wide open midway through the first quarter though, when UNLV blocked an Idaho State field goal and turned it into another touchdown. After that, UNLV ran away with the game, ending the first quarter with 35 points and going into halftime with a 52-8 lead. UNLV would go on to win the game by a score of 80 to 8, setting school records for most points scored in a quarter, most points scored in a half, and most points scored in a game. The previous school record was 72 points in a game. UNLV's 80-point night also sets a Mountain West Conference scoring record, beating Air Force's previous record, which was also 72.

I've certainly never seen such a dominating performance by UNLV, and it really blew me away. Maybe Sanchez really is turning the program around...

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UNLV football - 2015 uniforms

Another year, another head coach, and another set of uniforms for UNLV's football program. The school, and head coach Tony Sanchez, recently unveiled new uniform concepts for the football team's 2015 season.

I, personally, liked the uniforms that were worn between 2009 and 2011 and was disappointed when Bobby Hauck changed them in 2012. The 2009 uniforms were simple and elegant and showcased school pride with the large-print "REBELS" across the chest and large logos on the sleeves and pants. Furthermore, the gray shoulders provided a good contrast against the red of the body of the jersey in the bright Las Vegas sun, and the whole scheme was unique in college football.

There was definitely some room for improvement. Some of the colors could have been tweaked. The helmets were also especially ugly. But overall I liked these uniforms. They were distinctly UNLV's.

The uniforms from 2009-2011 [LEFT] had a distinctive pattern and prominent school logos.
The uniforms in 2012-2014 [RIGHT] could easily be mistaken for Ohio State.

By comparison, the 2012 uniforms looked like hand-me-downs from Ohio State. On their own, the uniforms looked fine with their very retro-classic look, but they just weren't distinctive at all. The "REBELS" print on the chest was minimized, the school logos were removed, and the uniform lacked the school pride that I thought the previous ones showed so well. However, I didn't much care for the 2009 helmets, and I thought that the 2012 helmets were a stark improvement with the stripes and easier-to-read "UNLV" logo. I also liked the Reno variant helmets that included the Freemont Cannon under the logo, even though I hated the all-gray uniform variant itself.

I like that these new 2015 uniforms retain the large-print "REBELS" text of the 2009 ones. The large Hey Reb logo on the shoulders and the UNLV logo on the pants also helps to bring back the sense of displaying school pride that was absent from the 2012 versions.

However, I strongly dislike how monochrome all the uniforms are! I don't know what it is with football's current fascination with monochrome ...

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UPDATE December 17, 2014 : Sanchez unanimously approved by UNLV board of regeants

As of this afternoon, Tony Sanchez has been unanimously approved to start his 4-year, $2 million coaching contract for UNLV's football program.

Bishop Gorman 2014 state champions
UNLV's board of regents has unanimously approved Tony Sanchez's head coaching contract.

He's already started putting his new coaching staff in place...

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UNLV Running Rebels logo

The speculation that UNLV would hire Bishop Gorman high school coach Tony Sanchez to replace Bobby Hauck was confirmed and made official. Pending confirmation by UNLV's board of directors, Sanchez will be the next head coach of the Rebels, and will be granted a $500,000 per year salary. Starting over the next few weeks, he will have to start building his coaching staff and looking to recruit some players.

Sanchez helped establish Bishop Gorman high school as a top-ranked high school football program in the nation. He compiled an 85-5 record and won six consecutive state championships, as well as a No. 1 overall national ranking after their most recent championship. In addition to dominating Nevada schools, Gorman has also won victories against some powerhouse out-of-state schools (including beating California's #1-ranked Centennial High on their home turf), which cements their status as a top national team.

In addition to being a successful high school coach who has already turned around some high school programs, he also comes with some intangible benefits.

For one thing, he could potentially sway some of his current Bishop Gorman players to sign with UNLV, thus bringing national-caliber athletes to UNLV - something that former coaches Sanford and Hauck could not do. But this is only a temporary benefit. Within two or four years, all players who had associations with Sanchez will have graduated from Gorman, and he wouldn't have the relationship or sway with later students.

Bishop Gorman 2014 state champions
Tony Sanchez accepts Bishop Gorman's sixth straight Nevada state championship
after a 70-28 victory over Sparks High School (Reno, Nevada).

This means that expectations will be very high for Sanchez right out of the gate, especially if he can land a few top-tier recruits this coming spring.

Despite looking good on paper, this hiring is not without controversy.

There has been criticism that UNLV railroaded this job for Sanchez due to financial promises from Gorman boosters ...

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UNLV Running Rebels logo

Prior to UNLV's season-closing game against rival Nevada, head coach Bobby Hauck announced that he would be resigning after the season. It's unfortunate that Hauck couldn't accomplish more in his time at UNLV. He had a repuation as a winner at Montana, and his teams at UNLV definitely had the talent to be successful.

But the team was inconsistent, often playing well for half a game and then crashing and burning in the other half. Third quarters were real killers for UNLV this year, as the team regularly collapsed and allowed their opponents to break away after halftime. And that is exactly how UNLV lost (49-20) in Hauck's final game against rival Nevada. Hauck accumulated four seasons with only two wins, as well as one outlier year in which UNLV won seven games and earned a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's day last year (which my dad and I attended).

It's hard to tell where exactly the problem was. I had some issues with the decisions that were made by Hauck and his staff over the years. Specifically, I thought that Hauck set up former starting quarterback Nick Sherry for failure. Sherry performed well as a pocket-passer in his first few games running a west coast-style offense, and when the Rebels starting running a spread pistol formation focused around the read option, Sherry struggled. He was clearly uncomfortable as an option quarterback. He wasn't very mobile, he didn't make the right reads, and his accuracy and decision-making out of the pocket was terrible. So when Hauck continued to run that pistol spread offense, I was frustrated. Maybe Sherry handled it well enough in practice that Hauck honestly believed that he could handle it in games? But as game after game went by, and Sherry just kept looking worse and worse, it should have become obvious that he and that offense did not fit together.

Nevada takes the Freemont Cannon
UNLV collapsed in the third quarter to lose the Freemont Cannon to rival Nevada.
A sadly fitting - and representative - conclusion to Bobby Hauck's tenure at UNLV.

But UNLV's players didn't make Hauck's job easier. Both the offense and defense were horribly inconsistent year in and year out. It's hard to tell if that was the result of bad coaching or just bad players. But there was definitely some physical talent on the field. UNLV has had a quality receiving corp during most of Hauck's tenure, but aside from Caleb Herring, they just didn't have a quarterback that could reliably get them the ball. And even when the ball was on the mark, those receivers still dropped quite a few of them. The offensive line had trouble stopping blitzes, and the defense struggled to fill gaps and make tackles, leading to opponents regularly accumulating over 200 yards rushing against UNLV.

So it's difficult for me to be able to say with any degree of confidence whether Hauck was unfit for the job.

In any case, Hauck has decided that he and UNLV are not a good fit for each other, and he is moving on. UNLV will now have to search for a new head coach, ...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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