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Tony Sanchez passed every test in his first year at UNLV. Now he has to keep doing it

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In his first year as UNLV head coach, local coaching legend Tony Sanchez put together a seasoned staff, engineered a little bit of on-field improvement and signed a strong recruiting class. Now he just has to do it again and again and again.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

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1. Laying a foundation

The first two Mountain West previews (HawaiiWyoming) centered around the idea of difficult jobs and how they remain forever difficult. You can never change geography, and it takes an immense amount of time to sculpt history in a positive way. Money and fan support don't tend to change that much (in the long-term, at least).

The result is that you are forever swimming upstream. If your form is good, and you know what you are doing, you can progress. But individual setbacks -- injuries, some misses on the recruiting trail, an iffy coordinator hire (perhaps in replacing a really good one) -- can send you backwards half a mile.

On paper, UNLV does not have the same set of disadvantages that Hawaii and Wyoming do. You are infinitely closer to solid recruits than either the Rainbow Warriors or the Cowboys, and in your own way, you can match the scenery that Hawaii provides. You are close to people with a lot of money, a few of whom are even UNLV alums.

Without any knowledge of history, it's not hard to talk yourself into believing that UNLV could be a solid mid-major program. It has had plenty of great moments in basketball, and while football requires far more support and quality recruits, it doesn't seem impossible. On paper.

In reality, obviously, it's been a different story. Since joining what is now FBS in 1978, UNLV has been to four bowl games. The Rebels have won more than seven games in a season just three times, and the last time it happened was 2000, when current recruits were about one or two years old.

Geography might be relatively friendly to the Rebels, but support has not been. Competing for eyeballs (and dollars) at a stadium about 10 miles from Las Vegas' Strip has forever been an issue. UNLV faces all the attention issues that you get in Los Angeles or Miami, only without the big-name team or history of success.

Worse yet, when it comes to coaching, the school in no way has a type.

Since Harvey Hyde was fired in 1985 for winning with ineligible players and trying to pull off a "Jerry Tarkanian, but football" routine, this program hasn't found its footing. Hiring young and old coaches, with local and national backgrounds, the Rebels have been to three bowls and finished .500 or better five times since 1987 and has won two games eight times in the last 11 years.

From successful FCS coaches to old names to up-and-coming coordinators, UNLV has tried every type of coach, and none has found sustained success in the desert.

Tony Sanchez might be in the process of changing that. Might. The architect of local high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman attempted the difficult leap from high school to college last season, but in his first 12 months or so on the job, he has pushed a lot of the right buttons.

  • He hired a staff flush with the college experience he lacks -- offensive and defensive coordinators Barney Cotton and Kent Baer have about five decades' worth of experience as college coordinators and/or head coaches, defensive line coach Tony Samuel spent 14 years as head coach at NMSU and SE Missouri State, etc.
  • He and his staff engineered at least a little bit of on-field improvement in their first year: UNLV rose from 2-11 and 117th in S&P+ to 3-9 and 106th. Both the offense and defense improved incrementally, and only a 1-4 record in one-possession games prevented the record from showing more demonstrative improvement.
  • He stuck the landing with his first recruiting class. Despite just one winning record in the last 15 seasons, UNLV boasted the No. 4 class in the Mountain West per the 247Sports Composite. And they damn near caught defending conference champion San Diego State for third.

In 2016, UNLV will boast at least two 247Sports three-stars in every unit and returns its top three running backs, three of its top four receivers, five offensive linemen with starting experience, four of its top five defensive linemen, three of its top four linebackers, and five of its top seven defensive backs. There are voids to fill at quarterback and safety, but one year into Sanchez's tenure, there is both improving depth and reason for hope. The upstream voyage could endure a setback at any moment, but so far, so good.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 105 | Final S&P+ Rk: 106
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at Northern Illinois 66 30-38 L 18% 5% +6.8 +15.0
12-Sep UCLA 28 3-37 L 6% 0% 0.0 -5.0
19-Sep at Michigan 8 7-28 L 8% 0% +9.7 +13.0
26-Sep Idaho State N/A 80-8 W 95% 100% +54.9
3-Oct at Nevada 97 23-17 W 51% 60% +10.9 +13.0
10-Oct San Jose State 89 27-33 L 22% 10% -12.4 -3.5
16-Oct at Fresno State 103 28-31 L 14% 7% -11.8 -9.5
31-Oct Boise State 37 27-55 L 24% 3% -10.5 -8.0
7-Nov Hawaii 120 41-21 W 53% 85% +12.3 +10.0
14-Nov at Colorado State 86 35-49 L 16% 2% -0.9 -6.5
21-Nov San Diego State 43 14-52 L 4% 0% -26.3 -22.0
28-Nov at Wyoming 115 28-35 L 26% 38% -7.8 -7.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 24.5 93 37.1 113
Points Per Game 28.6 66 33.7 100

2. Optimist vs. pessimist

One of the problems with a tiny 12-game sample is that you can see whatever you want to see. UNLV's 2015 season featured three decent to great performances (percentile ratings above 50 percent), three below-average ones (ratings in the 20s), and six awful ones (below 20).

An optimist could point out that three of the sub-20 performances came in the first three games of the year and that there were, by UNLV standards, only a few duds the rest of the way. That suggests growth!

A pessimist could point out that UNLV's only truly awesome performance came in a blood-letting against Idaho State (a 2-9 FCS team that fell between Georgetown and Columbia in the Sagarin ratings), or that another two of the duds came in November. That might suggest more randomness than improvement.

Whatever spin you want to apply, the end result was one of slight progress across the board. Because of garbage-time adjustments, UNLV only got so much credit for blasting Idaho State into a million pieces (that game truly was ridiculous, by the way: it was 35-0 after one quarter and 73-8 after three), and both units showed incremental progress.

Perhaps most encouraging from an aesthetics standpoint: the blowout losses subsided. UNLV lost five games by more than 21 points in 2014 but suffered only three such losses last fall. The Rebels even managed to score on Michigan in September! That was easier said than done.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.24 76 IsoPPP+ 96.6 84
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.2% 85 Succ. Rt. + 94.9 93
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.6 62 Def. FP+ 30.3 80
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 68 Redzone S&P+ 100.8 73
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.2 ACTUAL 17 -3.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 59 91 93 84
RUSHING 36 84 77 88
PASSING 77 85 101 74
Standard Downs 97 101 89
Passing Downs 53 74 58
Q1 Rk 27 1st Down Rk 65
Q2 Rk 109 2nd Down Rk 55
Q3 Rk 73 3rd Down Rk 70
Q4 Rk 64

3. The game plan was solid, part 1

Barney Cotton came to UNLV after a stint as Nebraska's offensive coordinator, and in some ways his first UNLV attack resembled that of the Huskers. The Rebels leaned slightly toward the run and operated at a pace slightly faster than normal.

They didn't have the weapons to sustain any sort of high-octane rushing-and-pace attack, however, and that held them back. Quarterbacks Kurt Palandech and Blake Decker were able to consistently carve out five-yard gains here and there, and running backs Keith Whitely, Xzaviar Campbell, and Lexington Thomas contributed a solid number of larger gashes.

But the consistency wasn't there, and the game plan suffered from diminishing returns. UNLV averaged 6 yards per play in the first quarter but 5.1 in the second, 5.8 in the third but 5.6 in the fourth. When planning and organized adjustments were involved, the Rebels figured out how to do some damage. But once something worked, it was unlikely to work again.

That speaks to talent and depth -- UNLV didn't have enough of it. And matters got worse in the three games that Decker missed (SJSU, Fresno State, SDSU).

Decker graduated, leaving behind a load of experience at the skill positions and a giant question mark at the most important offensive position.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Blake Decker 120 209 1713 12 8 57.4% 10 4.6% 7.6
Kurt Palandech 6'2, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 75 152 794 9 5 49.3% 23 13.1% 3.9
Kevin Thomson 6'1, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7744
Dalton Sneed 6'0, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7973
Johnny Stanton 6'2, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8467
Armani Rogers 6'5, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8597

4. Battle royal!

In spelling Decker throughout the season, Palandech got a chance to prove himself as the heir apparent for 2016. But his performances were, for the most part, lacking. He threw at least 10 passes in six games, but his passer rating in those games never topped 120. He threw at least 24 passes in four games, but his completion rate in those games was a combined 48 percent (54-for-113). And he took a ton of sacks to boot.

In all, Palandech was a more effective, efficient runner than Decker, but his average of 3.9 yards per pass attempt (including sacks) was barely half of Decker's. And it opened the door for a spring competition.

When spring ball opened in March, Palandech was splitting snaps with two others: redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed and JUCO transfer Johnny Stanton. Stanton started his career as a four-star prospect at Nebraska and therefore has pretty clear ties to Cotton. He's got size and the dual-threat skill set that Cotton appears to desire. And if he's got a better arm than Palandech, then it might be a fair assumption that he'll be starting against Jackson State on September 1. But competition is healthy, and UNLV has a decent mix of experience and potential involved here.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Keith Whitely RB 5'9, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115 152 711 3 4.7 5.3 31.6% 2 0
Xzaviar Campbell RB 5'11, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 89 469 5 5.3 7.4 32.6% 1 0
Lexington Thomas RB 5'9, 165 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7733 81 506 3 6.2 5.9 49.4% 3 1
Kurt Palandech QB 6'2, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 59 401 4 6.8 4.6 59.3% 4 2
Blake Decker QB 37 175 1 4.7 3.0 48.6% 4 1
George Naufahu RB 28 170 3 6.1 6.1 39.3% 0 0
David Greene FB 11 69 0 6.3 12.3 27.3% 0 0
Charles Williams RB 5'10, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Devonte Boyd WR-X 6'1, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 105 54 904 51.4% 30.3% 8.6 62.9% 45.7% 1.75
Kendal Keys WR-Z 6'4, 200 Jr. 2 stars 0.8539 73 43 515 58.9% 21.0% 7.1 58.9% 43.8% 1.46
Aaron Criswell WR-A 41 22 416 53.7% 11.8% 10.1 53.7% 36.6% 2.68
Andrew Price TE 6'6, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 29 17 173 58.6% 8.4% 6.0 48.3% 44.8% 1.27
Anthony Williams WR-A 24 12 113 50.0% 6.9% 4.7 37.5% 41.7% 0.91
Keith Whitely RB 5'9, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115 21 17 154 81.0% 6.1% 7.3 42.9% 38.1% 1.80
Jake Phillips TE 17 8 94 47.1% 4.9% 5.5 70.6% 41.2% 1.17
Lexington Thomas RB 5'9, 165 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7733 12 10 100 83.3% 3.5% 8.3 66.7% 66.7% 1.09
George Naufahu RB 8 5 32 62.5% 2.3% 4.0 25.0% 37.5% 0.91
Brandon Presley WR-Z 6'0, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933 8 3 28 37.5% 2.3% 3.5 37.5% 25.0% 1.45
Xzaviar Campbell RB 5'11, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 7 5 8 71.4% 2.0% 1.1 57.1% 14.3% 1.08
Tim Holt TE 6'2, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8228
Trevor Kanteman TE 6'4, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556
Andre Collins Jr. WR 6'4, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8281
Giovanni Fauolo TE 6'2, 250 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8156
Mekhi Stevenson WR 6'0, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026








5. Big plays are not a problem (but little plays are)

Whoever wins the quarterback job will be lining up behind a line that both returns and replaces quite a bit. Gone are guards Nick Gstrein and Eric Noone, who accounted for 20 of UNLV's 65 starts last year; but the other three starters return, and junior Chris Lopez spelled Gstrein for a third of the season. UNLV's line was okay last year -- pass protection was pretty solid for Decker (less so for the scrambling Palandech), and while the Rebels failed to get any sort of push in short-yardage, they at least kept defenders out of the backfield against the run. I would assume this year's line will be about the same from a quality perspective.

The QB should get decent help from the skill positions, too. Three running backs combined to carry the ball about 27 times per game, and each -- senior Keith Whitely and sophomores Xzaviar Campbell and Lexington Thomas -- showed at least above-average explosiveness. Only Thomas boasted decent efficiency numbers (49 percent of his carries gained at least five yards), but all three proved themselves in the big-play department.

So, too, did receiver Devonte Boyd. He and Kendal Keys have already put a high number on the odometer in two years; they combined for 139 targets and 88 catches as freshmen in 2014, then added 178 targets and 97 catches last year. Keys is a decent possession target, but Boyd was more all-or-nothing, averaging 16.7 yards per catch with barely a 50-percent catch rate.

Even including Keys, though, nobody in the receiving corps managed even a 46 percent success rate last season. And neither Whitely nor Campbell managed a five-yard gain on even one-third of their carries. Efficiency was a major issues, and when you want to play with decent tempo, you've got to be able to stay ahead of schedule. UNLV's ability to do that will determine how much improvement is possible in 2016.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 95.1 2.68 3.88 40.3% 58.7% 19.1% 73.3 6.2% 10.7%
Rank 96 102 11 47 110 59 109 88 113
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Nick Gstrein RG 8 21
Eric Noone LG 12 18
Kyle Saxelid LT 6'7, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7594 12 17
Will Kreitler C 6'0, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 12 12
J'Ondray Sanders RT 6'5, 260 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 10 10
Chris Lopez RG 6'4, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 4 4
Nathan Jacobson RT 6'5, 285 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 2 2
Patrick Carroll LT
0 0
Alex Neale LG
0 0
Justin Polu OL 6'4, 325 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389

Michael Chevalier OL 6'3, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694

Julio Garcia OL 6'3, 325 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8067

Jaron Caldwell OL 6'4, 315 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.29 80 IsoPPP+ 80.3 125
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.0% 115 Succ. Rt. + 85.3 119
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.6 50 Off. FP+ 29.8 67
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.9 109 Redzone S&P+ 93.5 94
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.6 ACTUAL 21.0 +1.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 110 124 119 125
RUSHING 111 127 125 124
PASSING 87 114 95 114
Standard Downs 127 124 126
Passing Downs 100 80 104
Q1 Rk 66 1st Down Rk 123
Q2 Rk 120 2nd Down Rk 124
Q3 Rk 106 3rd Down Rk 86
Q4 Rk 127

6. The game plan was solid, part 2

The defense was basically the same as the offense when it comes to in-game ups and downs. UNLV allowed just 5.3 yards per play in the first quarter but allowed 7.1 in the second. They rallied to 5.8 in the third, then fell to 6.6 in the fourth.

This suggests the same about the D as it did the O: UNLV had a pretty good plan of attack but couldn't sustain it. Play-calling is a dance of sorts -- they do this, then you do this, and on and on. UNLV figured out its first few steps but simply couldn't keep up the pace.

This begins to make sense when you look at the tackles and games played stats below. Ten linemen averaged at least half a tackle per game, but only five played in all 12 games, and the other five missed a combined 21. It was the same story at linebacker: six players averaged at least 0.5 tackles, and three missed time. The lineup in the front seven was static, and a lack of play-making ability beyond two or three players meant a hefty bend-don't-break approach and eventual wilting.

In theory, depth could improve this year. I referenced 16 players above (10 DL, six LB), and 12 return. Plus, JUCO linebacker Brian Keyes and two three-star freshmen (Leevel Tatum III and David Tate Jr.) could join the rotation as well. With decent health and a steady two-deep, UNLV might be able to maintain a solid level of play beyond the first quarter.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 88.1 3.17 3.41 42.8% 63.3% 19.3% 32.0 1.4% 2.8%
Rank 116 105 85 114 47 77 128 126 126
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Sonny Sanitoa DE 12 30.5 4.5% 3.0 1.0 1 4 0 0
Mike Hughes Jr. DT 6'2, 310 Jr. NR 0.8007 12 19.0 2.8% 3.5 0.0 0 1 2 0
Jason Fao DT 6'0, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8117 12 18.0 2.7% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Dominic Baldwin DT 6'5, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 11 13.5 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jeremiah Valoaga DE 6'6, 260 Sr. NR NR 6 11.0 1.6% 4.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Tuli Fakauho DT 10 10.5 1.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mark Finau DE 6'3, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7619 12 8.0 1.2% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Antonio Zepeda DE 6'6, 265 Jr. 2 stars 0.7683 4 6.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Salanoa-Alo Wily DT 6'0, 265 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8196 12 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tui Maloata DE 6'3, 260 Sr. NR NR 8 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Efrem Clark DE 8 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joseph Salazar DE 6'4, 235 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 4 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Leevel Tatum III DT 6'0, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8256








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ryan McAleenan MLB 6'2, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8300 12 69.0 10.3% 4.0 1.5 1 4 1 0
Tau Lotulelei WLB 6'1, 235 Sr. NR NR 10 55.0 8.2% 11.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Kimble Jensen WLB 11 27.0 4.0% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Matt Lea SLB 5'10, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 8 18.0 2.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Najee Johnson SLB 12 13.5 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Iggy Porchia MLB 6'2, 240 Sr. NR NR 12 9.0 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trent Langham MLB 6'2, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 12 5.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Bailey Laolagi LB 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7983 11 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brian Keyes LB 6'1, 245 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7883
David Tate Jr. LB 6'2, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389








7. Step 1: Find a pass rush

Per the opponent-adjusted stats, UNLV had the worst pass rush in FBS last year. Only one player had more than 1.5 sacks (linebacker Tau Lotulelei), and none had more than three. Linemen combined for just two. Two!

When you think of how comfortable quarterbacks were in the pocket, you start to realize how hard the secondary's job was. In this light, the fact that opponents managed only a 123.2 passer rating for the year and were held under 100 on four occasions is staggering. UCLA, with freshman sensation Josh Rosen, completed only 24 of 51 passes with three picks, and only two Mountain West foes managed a passer rating over 130.

That reflects incredibly well on UNLV's secondary. Given all the time in the world, quarterbacks were only sometimes successful. Corners Torry McTyer and Tim Hough combined for three tackles for loss and 18 passes defensed, and safeties Blake Richmond and Peni Vea were able to make up for a lack of disruption up front with some havoc plays of their own.

Richmond and Vea are gone, meaning there will be new guys manning the primary safety positions. But McTyer and Hough are back, and last year's top two backup safeties (Troy Hawthorne and Kenny Keys) are seniors who have been around a while. Keys was a starter in 2014 before being displaced last year. Plus, two big JUCO transfers (Michael Adams and Robert Jackson) join the rotation as well.

There's a good chance the secondary will be pretty stout. Now it's up to the front seven to make the secondary's job easier. And since the names up front are basically the same, it's impossible to guarantee that.

8. Step 2: Force more passes

The other way to help the secondary out is to give it more opportunities to make plays in pressure situations. Opponents had no problem slicing through UNLV's makeshift front seven with their respective ground games; going by Rushing S&P+, in fact, UNLV had the second-worst run defense in the country. Seven of 12 opponents averaged at least 6 yards per carry, including each of the last five. In the last three games, opponents carried a combined 140 times for 901 yards, 6.4 per carry. That, of course, meant that opponents only had to pass when they wanted to, often in play-action situations.

By simply maintaining some semblance of health and continuity, the run defense should improve at least a little. The more it improves, the most plays a frustrated secondary might be able to make.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Blake Richmond FS 12 73.0 10.9% 3.5 0 1 6 2 0
Peni Vea SS 12 65.0 9.7% 3 1 1 4 1 0
Torry McTyer CB 6'0, 180 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8179 12 46.5 6.9% 2 0.5 0 10 1 0
Troy Hawthorne SS 6'3, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7400 12 29.0 4.3% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Tim Hough CB 5'11, 195 So. NR 0.7533 12 28.5 4.2% 1 0 4 4 0 0
Kenny Keys FS 6'4, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 28.5 4.2% 1 0 1 0 1 0
Darius Mouton NB 5'10, 165 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8051 10 18.0 2.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Fred Wilson CB 9 16.5 2.5% 1 0 1 1 0 1
Jay'Onn Myles CB 5'8, 165 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8507 11 7.0 1.0% 0 0 1 3 0 0
Dalton Baker DB 5'11, 185 So. NR NR 11 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
J.T. Nettleton DB 6'3, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) NR 10 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Javin White DB 6'2, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7917
Michael Adams DB 6'2, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7683
Robert Jackson DB 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7867
Tykenzie Daniels DB 5'10, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856








Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Logan Yunker 67 42.5 7 27 18 67.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Nicolai Bornand 6'1, 225 Sr. 65 61.7 23 2 35.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Nicolai Bornand 6'1, 225 Sr. 43-44 9-11 81.8% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Aaron Criswell KR 20 21.3 0
Lexington Thomas KR 5'9, 165 So. 12 20.8 0
Keith Whitely PR 5'9, 190 Sr. 11 4.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 71
Field Goal Efficiency 73
Punt Return Success Rate 112
Kick Return Success Rate 59
Punt Success Rate 48
Kickoff Success Rate 95

9. Forgettable in special teams, for better and worse

UNLV was basically middle-of-the-pack in special teams. That can be fine -- it means you're mostly avoiding disaster -- though with such inefficiency on offense and defense, this was a missed opportunity to make up ground from a field position perspective.

The single biggest strength in the unit, punting, takes a hit with the loss of Logan Yunker, but kicker Nicolai Bornand is decent, and Lexington Thomas should be fine in the return game. If Keith Whitely or someone else could break into the second level on punt returns a few more times, that would be welcome.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
1-Sep Jackson State NR 30.3 96%
10-Sep at UCLA 12 -32.6 3%
17-Sep at Central Michigan 85 -13.4 22%
24-Sep Idaho 108 2.1 55%
1-Oct Fresno State 94 -4.1 41%
8-Oct at San Diego State 55 -20.1 12%
15-Oct at Hawaii 118 -2.7 44%
22-Oct Colorado State 96 -2.8 44%
29-Oct at San Jose State 92 -11.3 26%
12-Nov Wyoming 110 2.4 56%
18-Nov at Boise State 36 -24.4 8%
26-Nov Nevada 91 -4.9 39%
Projected wins: 4.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk -32.7% (119)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 86 / 95
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 4 / -0.6
2015 TO Luck/Game +1.8
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 56% (56%, 55%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 3.1 (-0.1)

10. Wins in the middle

Thanks to turnover at quarterback and a mostly miserable recent track record, UNLV is projected a conservative 114th this year. There's certainly potential for something better here -- the skill positions are explosive, the offensive line is decent, Johnny Stanton seems to have a high ceiling at QB, and the secondary is making the most of a bad situation. But deficiencies in the defensive front and a simple lack of known (and good) quantities at QB will hold the Rebels back until proven otherwise.

If you look at the schedule, though, a little bit of improvement could go a long way. Thanks in part to UNLV living in the right division (the MWC West has been quite a bit weaker than the Mountain of late), the Rebels play nine opponents projected 85th or worse in S&P+, and they are given between a 39 and 56 percent chance of winning in six games. If UNLV manages to rank in the 90 to 100 range, the Rebels could threaten to reach bowl eligibility.

I like what Tony Sanchez did in his first year. Bowling in his second year might be a bit of a stretch, but Sanchez has passed the tests he's been given so far. His experienced staff was able to put together solid plans of attack, and his first full recruiting class was a solid success. Now Sanchez just has to pass all the countless tests on the horizon, too. Easy, right?