At first glance of the stat sheet, UNLV and Fresno State were similar in many categories, except for one.
After a huge upset victory against Vanderbilt, the Rebels feel back to earth in their 56-27 blow out loss to Fresno State Friday night. Five Rebel turnovers, three interceptions and two fumbles, lead to 28 Bulldog points. It is a key to so many games, who will win the turnover battle, and in this game, the score mirrored the turnover margin.
On their first drive of the game, UNLV was out to make a statement. The Rebels drove down the field to the Fresno State five-yard line. UNLV failed to punch it in the endzone and settled for a field goal.
After the score, UNLV turned the ball over on their next two drives. Chad Magyar had the ball knocked out by Justin Rice at the UNLV 32-yard line; fortunately for UNLV, Fresno State missed its field goal attempt. Right after the missed kick, Kenyon Oblad threw an interception, which lead to a Fresno State touchdown.
Down 7-3, the Rebels responded with a 13 play 72-yard drive that was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Oblad to Randal Grimes.
Fresno State scored two more touchdowns and UNLV found themselves down 21-10. With the pressure back on the Rebels, Oblad delivered a 60-yard touchdown pass to tight end Noah Bean to cut the deficit to single digits, 21-17.
UNLV made a questionable decision before the half. After a Fresno State touchdown drive that went for 75 yards on five plays in a minute and three seconds, UNLV’s offense had the ball at Fresno State’s 40-yard line on 4th and 7 with 19 seconds remaining. Instead of going for it and trying to steal some points before the half, UNLV decided to punt the ball and they went into halftime trailing 28-17.
Surprisingly, given their mistakes, the Rebels were within one score in the third quarter. After a Rebel field goal early in the third quarter, Fresno State had missed another field goal and UNLV had the ball down 28-20.
Then, UNLV gave the game, and the ball, away.
Charles Williams fumbled on the first snap of the drive, and Fresno State scooped it up and scored. UNLV, on its next possession, turned it over on downs. Fresno State got the ball back and scored on the third play of the drive, in a minute and 22 seconds.
Oblad’s second pick of the game came early in the fourth quarter, Fresno State returned it to the UNLV one-yard line and scored the next play. Oblad threw another interception on the next possession. Once again Fresno State cashed in on a Rebel mistake with another touchdown.
In a matter of eight minutes and 51 seconds of game time, UNLV went from down eight, to down 36. UNLV added one final garbage time touchdown, but the hole was far too deep to come out of.
It is hard to believe, but UNLV had a chance to win this game. Fresno State did out drastically out play the Rebels, they just did not turn the ball over five times.
“When you turn the ball over five times,” a frustrated Tony Sanchez said after the game, “ you’re not going to win the football game.”
Sanchez said when they go back and watch the film, they’ll be “sick to their stomach” because the Rebels could have won this game. “It’s unbelievable. It’s unacceptable to have that many turnovers.”
A positive to take from the game was how Oblad played. He was 16-34 passing with 257 yard, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. He made solid throws on his touchdown passes. However, those three turnovers will leave a large stain on his stat line.
UNLV struggled mightily on the ground. They only had 157 rushing yards, compared to Fresno State’s 260, on 40 rushes and averaged 3.9 yard per rush. Fresno native Charles Williams only compiled 82 rushing yards on 25 carries.
UNLV’s defense, who was worn out after constantly coming back on the field after turnovers from the offense, suffered some injures. Both safety Greg Francis and linebacker Rayshad Jackson were not on the field much in the second half with their respective injuries, which are not known at this time.
Francis is already filling in for injured Drew Tejchman, who out for the season with an LCL injury, on an already thin Rebel secondary. And Jackson, the Florida transfer and who is second on the team in tackles, has been a force on the defense to this point. If these two miss any significant amount of time, the already struggling Rebel defense will have another obstacle to overcome.
One thing is for sure; UNLV cannot keep having these self-inflicted mistakes if they want to give themselves a chance to win. They also cannot afford to turn the ball over five times again.
The Rebels now have an extra day to rest and prepare for their next game, which is at home against San Diego State. At 2-5, and still without a conference win, UNLV must go 4-1 in their remaining five games to give themselves a chance at going to a bowl game.