This was one that the Rebels will try and forget. UNLV’s football team headed into its first Mountain West Conference matchup of the year, against a 2-2 University of New Mexico team coming off a home loss to first-year FBS program Liberty University. This looked like a great opportunity for the Rebels to get a foothold at the top of the conference, disaster struck instead and the Lobos embarrassed UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium, 50-14.
With sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers out from a toe injury, the reins were handed to fellow sophomore Max Gilliam. Gilliam, a transfer from Saddleback Junior College, fumbled the first offensive snap. He would never get right, nor would UNLV, en route to the humiliating loss.
In his first extended game action Gilliam underwhelmed the Rebels faithful. He threw for 123 yards, the second highest for any Rebel this season, as well as two touchdowns and an interception. Gilliam finished with a quarterback rating of 1.4. New Mexico’s quarterback, junior Sheriron Jones, picked up 250 passing yards, four touchdowns in the air and a QBR of 98.6.
Without the threat of Rogers in the air or on the ground, the Lobos defense had a field day. The normally potent running game was routinely stifled. Senior Lexington Thomas had a team-high 36 rushing yards on six carries, his previous low was 82 yards against Arkansas State University.
The gap between Gilliam and Rogers also began to show on the ground. Whereas Rogers is one of college football’s best running quarterbacks, Gilliam was credited with -43 rushing yards after getting sacked five times and running for a loss twice. He also fumbled three times, all of which were recovered by the Rebels.
The Lobos came into the game as 12-point underdogs, but nobody would have known that if they turned on the game. UNLV looked ineffective on offense and overwhelmed on defense. This was the first time the Rebels defense was on the field more than the offense since their week one matchup with USC. UNLV held the ball for just over 23 minutes, while UNM had possession for almost 37 minutes.
Especially when the defense falls behind early, the score was 29-0 at halftime, the game ends with an upset and exhausted UNLV defense and an offense that couldn’t find their rhythm.
This should not be the warning flag that UNLV fans latch onto if the team struggles going forward, but it’s a testament to the need for better coaching, if losing a quarterback who’s last in college football in completion percentage—122 out of 122—causes the entire team to fold against an even opponent, then Tony Sanchez and the rest of the coaching staff need to figure out where they went wrong.
The Rebels are a talented team that has played well up to this point, and it’s up to them to right the ship with a new man at the helm for however long Rogers is out. Their next chance to get back on track will be on Oct. 13 against Utah State University.
This was going to be a difficult game with Rogers and healthy Rebels offense. Now? It may as well already be a loss. The Aggies are flying high after a 25-point trouncing of BYU and a 4-1 record that leaves them atop the Mountain Division and UNLV is coming to town for their homecoming game.
All of the stars are aligned for UNLV to come home staring at a 2-4 record, but that doesn’t need to happen. If Thomas can find room to run and Gilliam is able to stay composed in the pocket, they should be able to stay tight and then anything’s possible.