The last thing a team in a midst of a four game losing streak that has not scored more than 20 points during said losing streak is to face an SEC opponent on the road. However, a trip to Nashville to play Vanderbilt was just what the doctor ordered, as UNLV dominated the Commodores 34-10 on Saturday afternoon.
At the beginning of the season, it appeared that this would be one of, if not the most challenging game on UNLV’s schedule. Many had penciled the Vanderbilt game as a loss for the Rebels. The task at hand Saturday afternoon seamed even more daunting give the Rebels had not won a football game or scored more than 20 points in a game in 41 days. But as we have seen with UNLV football, they always pull out a win that no one was expecting.
The start of the game appeared that these two teams would be in a shootout, as Vanderbilt went down the field in 2:50 and scored a touchdown. The Rebels answered back with a five-yard Charles Williams touchdown on its first possession. However, in their best performance this season, UNLV held Vanderbilt to only three points the remainder of the game.
UNLV’s defense forced two turnovers and held the Commodores to 0-4 on fourth down conversions. Javin White came up with the big interception in the third quarter. “I feel like we did a great job executing on coach Skip’s (Defensive Coordinator Tim Skipper) schemes and these are the results we got,” White said about the defense only allowing 10 points against an SEC team. “Coach Sanchez had told us a few weeks ago to play free and let it loose. I feel like today we just let it loose and had no worries, just go play football. At the end of the day, it’s just football.”
“Defensively, we continued to improve, we’re starting to play well. I thought we played as well as we have in the secondary in a long time,” head coach Tony Sanchez said. “They challenged us in the passing game…and we didn’t give up big chucks and created some turnovers.”
What was just as impressive as UNLV’s defense was its offense, and what got everyone’s attention was the play of redshirt freshman Kenyon Oblad. He completed 11 of 16 attempts with two touchdowns. The highlight of his performance was a 63-yard touchdown pass to Randal Grimes early in the third quarter to extend the UNLV lead to 17-7. After a Vanderbilt field goal, Oblad answered with a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Noah Bean to help the Rebels re-extend its lead to double digits.
“I can’t explain how well the offensive line andrunning backs played today, Oblad said after making his second career start. “Every time we ran the ball, it seemed we got three, four, five plus yards. When that’s happening, it makes my job easier, it makes play calling easier, everything’s rolling. and scoring on the first four drive makes you pretty successful and it’s a great start to the game.”
The Rebels returned to what they do best offensively, running the ball. Charles Williams 69 rushing yards and a touchdown but did not lead the team in rushing, it was Chad Magyar. In his second game back, Magyar had 116 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. Magyar capped off UNLV’s scoring in the fourth quarter with a 14-yard rush. With the production from Magyar, the Rebels are not a one trick pony at the running back position with just Williams. The two have played well in their two games together, expect UNLV to rely on these two a lot more throughout the rest of the season. If the run game is going, the Rebel offense is going.
“Offensively, we got back to our roots, we got away from who we are and how we built this program, that’s getting downhill and running the football on people and it showed today,” Sanchez said on how important the run game is for UNLV’s offensive production. “When your quarterback is sitting there with manageable third downs and he’s not in third and longs all the time, that’s a best friend for a young quarterback who’s grown exponentially in the last few weeks.
As mentioned previously, UNLV under Tony Sanchez always pulls out an upset when no one is expecting it. In his first season, the Rebels went to Reno as heavy underdogs and won the Fremont Cannon. In 2016, the Rebels won a three-overtime game at home against Josh Allen and the Mountain division champion Wyoming Cowboys. Then, in 2017, UNLV went on the road and defeated Fresno State, giving the Bulldogs their only conference loss that season.
The Rebels were in a very similar spot last season when they faced San Diego State in its third-to-last game of the 2018 season. UNLV had a six-game losing streak snapped when then went into San Diego and defeated the Aztecs. The Rebels went on to win two of its last three, and this season, UNLV will need even more stellar play to finish the season.
Now, UNLV sits at 2-4, and must go 4-2 in its remaining six games to give itself a chance at a bowl berth. They face Fresno State, San Diego State, Colorado State, Hawaii, San Jose State, and UNR in the final half of its schedule. If UNLV can go on the road and win in SEC country, going 4-2 in its last six is not too crazy. One thing is for sure, if the Rebels want any chance of making a bowl game, they will need six more Vanderbilt-like performances with both the offense and defense playing to their full potential.
The Rebels will face another challenge in its next game on Friday night at Fresno State. “We need to enjoy this ride home, have a great ride home and we got to wake up tomorrow and get our sights ready for Fresno (State), Sanchez said. “They’ve got a good team, we’re going on the road, it’s a quick turnaround…I’m excited about this win and hopefully we’ll (have a) spark from it.”