Earlier in the year, senior running back Charles Williams said that one of the goals this season was to not let “UNLV beat UNLV.” However, mistakes like penalties and miscues on defense put UNLV behind San Jose State, and in a hole, they could not find its way out of as they lost to the Spartans 34-17.
“We talk about not letting UNLV beat UNLV, but you can’t make those kinds of mistakes we did tonight and beat a good football team, which is what San Jose State is. We saw some growth in some areas and these guys will respond and come back and get ready for next week,” Coach Marcus Arroyo said after the loss.
UNLV opened the game with a 10 play, 65-yard drive that led to a field goal with Max Gilliam at quarterback, giving UNLV its first lead of the season and they would not hold the lead for any part of the rest of the game.
San Jose State quickly jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter, prompting UNLV to make a change at quarterback. Arroyo benched Gilliam and replaced him with TCU transfer Justin Rogers. With Rogers in the game, it provided a desperately needed spark for the Rebel offense.
With Rogers at quarterback, the Rebels drove down the field and scored a touchdown on a 19-yard pass to Kyle Williams. Rogers finished the game completing 12 of 18 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. UNLV went back to Gilliam in the fourth quarter and Arroyo said the rotation was planned.
After cutting the score to 17-10, San Jose State quickly drove down the field in five plays in under two minutes to put the deficit back at two scores for the Rebels. UNLV would not score again until the third quarter on a four-yard Charles Williams run, but it would be their last score of the game.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:
Freshman Receivers Shine
The lone bright spot for UNLV throughout the game was the production of its freshmen wide receivers, Williams and Zyell Griffin. The Rebels are thin at the position with Randal Grimes being suspended for the season, Mekhi Stevenson opting out for the year and Brandon Pressley still not back yet after his injury last spring. Arroyo said that with UNLV thin at positions, that the freshmen were going to play, and they shined Saturday night against the Spartans.
Williams caught nine passes for 110 yards, and a touchdown. He averaged over 12 yards per reception and his longest one was a 34-yard catch that set up UNLV’s opening field goal. Griffin had three catches for 68 yards, the big one came in the third quarter when Rogers hit him for 53-yards the set up the Williams touchdown run.
While the season might be at a loss for UNLV, it was great to see the freshmen get their chance to shine. This can be a bright spot for the Rebels in the future and an area that Arroyo can build upon as he implements his offense and looks for his quarterback.
Penalties, Penalties, and more Penalties
One way the Rebels beat themselves against the Spartans were the penalties UNLV committed. In total, there were eight UNLV penalties for 84 penalty yards. Many of those penalties were self-inflicted ones that hurt the Rebels.
There was a false start on Rogers’ first drive at quarterback that negated a Charles Williams run that would have been a first down and kept the drive alive. UNLV failed to convert on the next play and had to punt it back to the Spartans.
It was even worse on defense, there was a personal foul on a punt return that gave the Spartans great field possession for its upcoming drive. Later there were back-to-back pass interference penalties that set up the Spartans with a first and goal. It is understandable that this young team is going to make mistakes, but what happened Saturday night was egregious and needs to be fixed as the season goes on.
Gilliam has started all four games for UNLV this season, which was a surprise to many at the beginning of the year and had played throughout its previous two games before Saturday night. But against the Spartans, Gilliam would not be the only one taking snaps for the Rebels, as Arroyo went to Rogers in the second quarter.
Rogers had not played since the opening game against San Diego State, but he did not play long. Rogers is a junior with potentially up to two years of eligibility remaining after this year, if he chooses to exercise them. It is clear that Rogers could have the most upside compared to the rest of the quarterbacks in the room. And based on how things are going this year, it would be smart if Arroyo put Rogers out there for the rest of the year to gain momentum for the rest of the season.
UNLV travels to Fort Collins to face the Colorado State Rams Saturday at 2:30 pm PT. The Rebels were blown out by the Rams last year 37-17.