Another week produced another fourth quarter collapse for the UNLV football team, this time the meltdown occurred on Homecoming night.
The Rebels were beaten by the San Jose State Spartans, 27-20, from Allegiant Stadium, Thursday, Oct. 21.
“Down by seven, that close to the end zone, we feel like we had a great shot,” senior linebacker Austin Ajiake said. “It’s frustrating losing these close games but at the end of the day we have to find a way to finish and the score is going to reflect that.”
The loss drops the program’s record to 0-7 and 0-3 in the Mountain West. In addition, the team is 0-13 under head coach Marcus Arroyo.
UNLV has not won a football game in 690 days.
“There’s always three or four plays throughout the game that change the way it goes,” Ajiake said. “You never know when those plays are going to come. So we just have to be on our P’s and Q’s every down and treat every drive like its the game-winning drive because it really is.” A rivalry date with intra-state rival UNR lies ahead for the team, set for Friday, Oct. 29 from Mackay Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The dual-threat quarterback on the opposite sideline proved to be too much for the UNLV defense as the game winded down.
Spartan quarterback Nick Nash was hit hard often and early as the Rebel defense sacked him in the first quarter and followed that up with a big hit from defensive end Jalen Dixon.
That lone sack was the only one of the game for the UNLV defense. On the other hand, Rebel quarterback Cameron Friel was sacked five times.
In the fourth quarter, Nash had a long run spoiled late as it ended in a turnover via a fumble.
“I think the defense did a good job trying to contain those guys,” Arroyo said. “[The Wolf Pack] are an experienced group and that quarterback has played in a lot of big games over the time they’ve been together. There were opportunities there and when we had them we took them and there were some we missed.”
Aside from those plays Nash had his way with the Rebels, accounting for 334 of the 429 San Jose State yards.
Nash rushed for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter giving the Spartans their first lead of the game.
“It’s the fifth game now in the fourth quarter,” Arroyo said. “We feel like we’re matched up so we have to make sure we go back and look at exactly how we can finish a game.”
Though it didn’t end well the game started about as well as it could for UNLV.
Arroyo and company opted to start the game with a pooch kick, resulting in a recovery by the kicking team.
That drive ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Jenkins from Friel.
“I’ve said since we started talking about [Friel], I’ve said he’s tough, he’s resilient and he likes football,” Arroyo said. “He’s a team guy, I think 69% completion, 55% on third down, he’s driving the ball to win against the defending Mountain West champs.”
On several occasions throughout the game, Friel showed signs of comfort inside the pocket, delivering the ball all over the field.
On a third and one, Friel connected with wide receiver Kyle Williams on a 29-yard fade route.
The Friel-to-Williams connection was strong as the duo connected again on a third and nine for a 13-yard completion.
Williams ended the night with 117 yards on seven catches for his first 100-yard game of the season and the third of his career.
“Targeting Kyle has been something we’ve tried to get going here in the chemistry between him and Cam for quite a while,” Arroyo said. “As we all know, he’s been banged up over the course of the last five to six games.”
In the fourth quarter, Friel converted three long third downs, two of which went to Jenkins, who finished with 70 yards on six receptions.
Despite taking over with more than seven minutes left in regulation, UNLV had time expire after Friel was smacked on a blindside hit on a blitz from the San Jose State secondary.
“We gave up a sack there on the last down,” Arroyo said. “It’s a tough, critical situation where we’re reading the D and unfortunately we didn’t get guys back in time.”
Senior running back Charles Williams rushed for 94 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown scored in the second quarter.
However, a crucial fumble by Williams right before halftime turned into seven points for the Spartans. It was their first touchdown of the game, cutting the deficit to 17-13.
At one point, UNLV led 17-3.
“Uncharacteristic of Charles,” Arroyo said. “That’s our bread-winner. We handed him the ball to end that half to see if we can get close enough to possibly take some shots and maybe get in field goal range. Uncharacteristic.”
Another critical play toward the end of the game was a blocked field goal from the San Jose State 23-yard line on a fourth and one.
Kicker Daniel Gutierrez set a program record earlier in the game with his 16th straight made field goal.
The blocked attempt came on attempt No. 17.
“It’ll be one of [the plays that sticks out when I watch film], Arroyo said. “Those are critical plays in the game and uncharacteristic of us, obviously [Gutierrez] has done a really good job, a really good job kicking field goals.”