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The football gods gave UNLV every opportunity to win on Saturday afternoon against the Air Force Academy Falcons. The whole game was defined by fumbles, and virtually all of them bounced in UNLV's favor. Half a dozen Air Force fumbles were recovered by UNLV. Air Force botched a field goal snap. There was even a gust of wind that pulled a kickoff such that it hit the ground in front of the returner and then bounced backwards right into the hands of the incoming UNLV coverage team -- which was either the craziest fluke play that I've seen in a long time, or it's the most genius onside kick that I've seen in a long time.

UNLV vs Air Force - fumbles
The game was defined by fumbles, and UNLV was the beneficiary of almost all of them!

UNLV's 27-7 halftime lead wasn't really a case of them beating Air Force. The ball was literally being gift-wrapped (sometimes by Air Force, sometimes by blind luck) and handed to UNLV. They were the beneficiaries of constant mistakes by Air Forces and lucky bounces. But this undeserved lead also wasn't enough to guarantee the victory, as I smelled trouble as soon as UNLV stepped onto the field in the second half. The offense failed to move the ball, and the defense couldn't slow down Air Force's triple option attack. Even though the defense got plenty of rest in the first half of the game due to Air Force's constant fumbles, they still looked exhausted throughout the second half of the football game.

Perhaps the game-deciding play was the single instance in which the ball didn't bounce in UNLV's favor. After being completely shut down in the second half, Armani Rogers finally ripped off a big run in Air Force territory and looked like he might turn momentum back in favor of the Rebels. But he fumbled in Air Force territory, the ball bounced towards the Air Force goal line, and the ball slipped through the hands of two Rebel players before finally being downed in the end zone by Air Force. A Rebel even had the ball in his hand at the goaline, but a Falcon defender swiped it out of his grasp at the last instant, forcing the ball into the end zone where a Falcon fell on it. The play was even reviewed to see if the recovering Rebel had broken the plane before the ball was swiped. He was not.

UNLV vs Air Force - goaline fumble
The game was decided by a late fumble -- the only instance the ball bounced in Air Force's favor.

I think this loss (combined with the loss to Howard) deals a near-fatal blow to any hopes that UNLV had for a bowl bid this season. UNLV is only 2-4 midway through the season. They should be 3-3, and possibly could even have been 4-2 at this point. But they aren't showing any signs of being able to keep up with even their lackluster Mountain West competition -- and the Mountain West, as a conference, really does not look very good this year. A good team would find ways to deal with adversity, hold onto big leads, or find ways to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. Instead, UNLV has been doing what they always do: which is to completely fold in the second half.

Hawaii, BYU, and Nevada are UNLV's best chances of winning games throughout the rest of the season. Five wins, however, are not sufficient to send UNLV to a bowl. They'll have to also beat at least one of the remaining teams in the schedule. Fresno State is looking like it's just as good as San Diego State and Boise State, and is going to be a very tough contest for UNLV. Utah State and New Mexico are also looking like pretty solid teams this year. UNLV shouldn't plan on any of these teams putting the ball on the ground as often as Air Force did this weekend, so if they want to win, they'll have to work for it. They'll have to move the ball consistently on offense, and they'll have to make some stops on defense. They'll also have to continue to do both of those things in the second half of the game as well, which always seems (year in and year out) to be this team's Achilles heel.

But hey, they still covered the spread against Air Force, and I won a parlay card!

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