Rebels Sink to Season Low in Loss at San Jose State

Tony SanchezUNLV spent the better part of Saturday’s 30-24 loss at San Jose State getting dominated on both sides of the ball, which may very well turn out the be the Rebels’ “rock bottom” moment when the book is closed on the 2016 season.

San Jose State came into the game rated as one of the nation’s worst overall teams, with an offense ranking 108th in total yards (354 yards per game) and a defense ranking 102nd (446 yards allowed), but UNLV was unable to find any success until it was too late.

Freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed played poorly for the second consecutive week (2-of-9 for 24 yards) and was benched in favor of junior Kurt Palandech, who actually did a decent job of rallying the Rebels late (10-of-21, 161 yards, one touchdown). Palandech entered the game with UNLV trailing, 30-10, in the third quarter, and led a pair of touchdown drives to cut the deficit to six. The Rebels had one final chance, taking over possession inside their own 5-yard-line with less than two minutes to play and no timeouts, and Palandech marched the team across midfield before throwing an interception at the 14-yard-line to kill the comeback attempt.

The loss drops UNLV to 3-6 on the season and 2-3 in Mountain West play.

A few quick thoughts:

Quarterback shuffle
It’s probably time for a quarterback change. Dalton Sneed had his moments in relief of Johnny Stanton, and there were times when he looked like he could claim the job for the rest of the season. But while Sneed has had his highs, his lows have been really, really low, and that includes his 24-yard performance against San Jose State.

On Saturday, Sneed simply failed to make quality plays. He locked onto receivers, made poor decisions and missed his targets too often. UNLV went just 1-of-8 on third-down conversions in the first half, and worst of all, SJSU had so little respect for Sneed’s passing that they jammed the line of scrimmage with extra defenders, mucking up running lanes and neutralizing the Rebels’ formidable ground game.

Sneed is now 37-of-79 on the season (46.8 percent), and that’s just not good enough to win on most nights. Palandech isn’t a great option, but he at least looked willing to drive the ball down the field against San Jose State’s porous defense, finishing 10-of-21 for 161 yards.

On the Rebels’ final drive, the CBS Sports television broadcast caught Johnny Stanton putting on his helmet and warming up on the sideline, presumably in case the Rebels found themselves in need of a strong arm for a Hail Mary situation. Stanton was listed as the emergency quarterback on Saturday, and he’s still not completely recovered from his knee injury, but with a bye week coming up and 13 full days before the next game, there’s a good chance Stanton will be the starting quarterback the next time UNLV takes the field on Nov. 12 against Wyoming.

Breaking up is hard to do
San Jose State quarterback Kenny Potter had great success testing the UNLV secondary on deep routes, which only means that the Spartans have scouts.

UNLV has been unable to stop deep passes all season, and it proved to be a fatal flaw once again on Saturday as the Rebels allowed four pass plays longer than 25 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. On the first deep TD, UNLV actually had safety help over the top on a sideline route, which is unusual in Kent Baer’s defensive scheme. Unfortunately, it didn’t make much of a difference, as Troy Hawthorne was unable to make a play on the ball or break up the pass:

On the second long bomb, it was back to familiar single coverage down the field, with Torry McTyer unable to break up the pass in the end zone:

We’re now nine games into the season, so it’s probably unreasonable to expect any improvement in this area until next year. For now, the Rebels will just have to do their best to try and conceal the weakness.

They actually had some success in the third and fourth quarters when Baer went to a blitz-heavy approach. He sent extra rushers on just about every pass play and UNLV ended up collecting a season-high four sacks, as Potter was under so much pressure, he didn’t have time to let longer pass routes develop.

Blitzing comes with its own perils, as it can expose defensive backs who are left on an island (especially against savvy quarterbacks who aren’t as prone to panic in the face of a pass rush). But considering that UNLV’s defensive backs already have trouble in that area, calling more blitzes to cut down on pocket time may be a risk worth taking.

Thomas down
UNLV lost its best offensive player early in the first quarter when sophomore running back Lexington Thomas limped off the field. Thomas had carried just five times for 18 yards when he was forced out of the game, and his absence limited the Rebels’ offensive options for the rest of the night.

After the game, it was reported that Thomas had suffered a high ankle sprain:

Depending on the severity of the sprain, Thomas’ season could be in jeopardy, as high ankle sprains typically come with a 6-7 week recovery time. His status will be a key story line to watch over the next few days.

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