Rebels of old show up in UNLV’s 37-31 loss to San Jose State

Kalin Sipes-The Sporting Tribune
UNLV finishes the regular season at 9-3 following Saturday's loss. Their Mountain West fate will now be determined by computers.

LAS VEGAS–UNLV entered Saturday’s game against San Jose State with yet another chance to earn what may have been the biggest win in program history. Instead, the Rebels were ran out of their home stadium by Kairee Robinson and the San Jose State Spartans in front of a senior day crowd that was likely the biggest of the year.

The adage almost became humorous to a point, but it still rang true. Every game that this team plays in contention for the conference title ranks among the most important games in program history. Every win they pull out takes fans memories further away from the “norm” that plagued UNLV football throughout it’s history. The tagline for this season has been “Not the same ol’ Rebels”, owing to their improved fortunes.

I say all that to say this. Saturday felt like the “same ol’ Rebels”.

San Jose State is the hottest team in the conference over the last month and has had this game circled as a potential season-defining game since their own Mountain West title picture became clear. This is exactly the kind of game this program needs to pull out if they ever want to compete for an NY6 bowl, which is pinnacle of the sport for Group of Five teams.

For Barry Odom and his staff not to have this team prepared for this game is a damning indictment on a coach who will surely be one of college football’s hottest free agents this offseason. The offensive play-calling resembled the ultra-conservative slog that we witnessed during the Marcus Arroyo era as opposed to Brennan Marion’s patented go-go offense that has been a driving force behind UNLV’s dream season.

Given the loss, a now likely conference title game outcome for UNLV is a trip to San Jose next weekend for a road rematch against the Spartan team that thrashed them this weekend. One of my favorite quotes in sports is “it’s tough to beat a good team twice”. I feel less comfortable applying that quote for this prospective match up next week. Here’s to hoping the computer rankings lean Boise State.

How it happened

San Jose State began the clinic early, running out to a 10-0 lead before UNLV even registered an offensive possession.

The Spartans opened the scoring with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Chevan Cordeiro to Sam Olson on SJSU’s opening drive. UNLV return man Jacob DeJesus fumbled the ensuing kickoff deep in Rebel territory and the Rebels lost possession as San Jose State came up with it.

UNLV’s defense managed to hold San Jose State to a field goal despite the catastrophe, but the Rebels still trailed 10-0 before touching the pill.

When UNLV finally did get the ball…well, they didn’t do a damn thing with it. Literally. Their first offensive possession resulted in a net yardage gain of exactly zero after their only positive play was wiped out by an equidistant penalty.

The Kairee Robinson show continued for the Spartans on their ensuing possession as the Mountain West’s most dangerous running back ran for a 25-yard score. UNLV now trailed 17-0 before they gained a first down. Oh, and this was only after 10 minutes of on-field action.

With Allegiant Stadium having turned into an enthusiasm vacuum, the “Go-Go” offense finally started to get going. Jai’den “Jet” Thomas found the end zone from 7-yards out for his first of three touchdowns for UNLV on the game.

San Jose State wasn’t able to dig the knife much deeper, but they were able to twist it a little bit as a successful field goal attempt made it 20-7 in favor of the Spartans.

UNLV hit their first home run of the game on their next drive, as the speedy Vincent Davis Jr. chugged down the field for a 61-yard gain. The Rebels, however, settled for a field goal after the recurrent “questionable play calling” theme showed in the red zone.

UNLV took a 20-10 deficit into the locker room.

Another theme that has showed up for Barry Odom’s Rebels is the fact that they are a second half team. Whatever he says in those speeches must be magic, because UNLV was able to march right down the field on their first possession of the second half on the back of a dizzying 68-yard catch and run from Biletnikoff award snub Ricky White.

Jai’Den Thomas’ second touchdown carry of the game from three-yards out brought UNLV back within a possession to open the second half. San Jose State’s lead was now trimmed to 20-17.

The problem is, San Jose State is a second half team themselves. And they flexed their muscle too. Cordeiro threw a prayer of a deep ball that somehow found the hands of receiver Nick Nash in what could only be described as an act of God. If only God was from San Jose…or maybe San Jose’s Bay Area brother Oakland, who still feels spurned about the departure of the A’s and Raiders’.

Another three and out for UNLV allowed San Jose State to regain possession less than 30 seconds of game time later. Of course, San Jose State was able to pull points from the drive after another field goal by kicker Kyler Halvorsen stretched their lead to 30-17.

UNLV was threatening on their next possession, when faced with a third and six scenario that would end up solidifying Saturday’s result. The play call was a run up the middle for four yards, signifying that Odom and his coordinator Brennan Marion had decided to play for four downs. Instead, an inexplicable decision was made to send kicker Jose Pizano out to attempt a 48-yard field goal. While in Pizano’s range, 48 is not a “gimme” for him, and that was shown when the kick missed comfortably.

The eventual dagger was sent through the Rebels when Kairee Robinson capped off a seven play, 70-yard touchdown drive with a 40-yard touchdown run.

Down 37-17 with five minutes, UNLV put together back to back long touchdown drives and dueling three and outs to get the ball back down 37-31 with a chance to win the game.

The first of these touchdown drives went for 70 yards on 13 plays, ending with Thomas’ third touchdown run of the game. The next was good for 90 yards on just 8 plays, being capped off by freshman WR Corey Thompson Jr.’s first collegiate touchdown reception.

UNLV wasn’t able to score on their final chance. They didn’t even make things too shaky. The recurring theme of questionable play calls in crucial moments once again made an appearance as the Rebels offense seemed to be in no hurry to score and therefore win the game. They ran out of downs and SJSU subsequently knelt away the remaining clock.

FINAL SCORE: San Jose State 37, UNLV 31

Next game

The Mountain West regular season standings ended in a 3-way tie (UNLV, Boise State, San Jose State), with no solution being reached through a head-to-head tiebreaker as UNLV and Boise State have not played. This means that the Mountain West will now use a BCS computer model to decide who the two championship game teams will be via composite ranking. I’ve seen from multiple sources I trust both locally and nationally that UNLV’s spot in the title game is safe. If the computer determines Boise State has a higher composite ranking than San Jose State, the game will be played at Allegiant Stadium. If the computer determines that San Jose State is the higher ranked team, UNLV will travel to San Jose for the title game.

Regardless, the title game kicks off at noon PST next Saturday.