Gearing up for his second season with UNLV, coach Tony Sanchez looks to improve upon a 2015 season that saw few bright spots. Although the team was competitive throughout the season, they ultimately finished the year with only three wins. And while a lackluster 2015 campaign may not bode well for the team's prospects in 2016, coach Sanchez should look at this year as another stepping stone in the rebuilding process.
With their season opener against Jackson State only a week away, UNLV must focus on those bright spots if they wish to improve.
Speaking of those bright spots, on offense the Rebels are returning wide receiver Devonte Boyd. After catching 56 passes for UNLV in 2014, Boyd made his presence known in 2015, catching 75 passes for 904 yards despite missing four games. Now, as he enters his junior year, the team will rely upon him to have similar success. However, the one who will be throwing Boyd those
passes is yet to be determined.
Last season the Rebels used a combination of Blake Decker and Kurt Palandech as their starting quarterbacks. While both played well for UNLV (they combined for 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions) the rotating door that was the starting role was inconsistent overall.
Flash forward to 2016 and Decker is no longer with the program but the idea of a revolving quarterback is. Currently, Palandech is scheduled to share time with newcomer Johnny Stanton when the Rebels begin their season against Jackson State. If the team is to show any sign of progress between year one and two, selecting a starting quarterback sooner rather than later should be a top priority.
For now though, as they let the battle play out, UNLV would be wise to lean on their running game where they will showcase a duo of Lexington Thomas and true freshman Charles Williams.
Last season the UNLV defense was very suspect, giving up thirty or more points in eight of their twelve games. If the team were to show any improvement at all this season, the defensive side would be it.
Luckily for the Rebels they do not have to start from scratch as they do have Tim Hough and Darius Mouton returning. In 2015, Hough led the team with four interceptions and was by far the best UNLV defensive back. This season, Hough and Mouton will be joined by newcomer Robert Jackson.
In addition to improving the defensive backfield, UNLV must also work on generating a pass rush. Last season the team only sacked the opposing quarterback nine times. This is a big problem. If the team is unable to pressure the quarterback, opposing teams will throw against them all day long.
With season expectations low, the Rebels should treat 2016 as another stepping stone towards the type of program that they wish to be. The offense has a few pieces to the puzzle, but overall is still incomplete and the defense is very much a work in progress.
If the team is to improve upon their 2015 record at all, the most important thing for them to do is show an obvious growth between years one and two.