Rebel Rousings

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Sometimes in life, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I feel that way with UNLV football under Tony Sanchez. For instance, Saturday’s 56-23 win against Southern Utah University has some people still finding any and every flaw in the Rebels’ win. The Rebels were expected to win that game handily, which they did, but it isn’t enough for some. I get the skepticism from longtime UNLV fans after dealing with heartbreaking loses and unfulfilled expectations. We all remember the Howard University and Air Force games two years ago, plus New Mexico, San Jose St. and Air Force last year. This is a different UNLV team. Yet we all hear the same old snide, condescending, and contrarian remarks from a large portion of the fanbase. It’s gotten old.

 

Armani Rogers can’t complete passes for more than 3 yards!!

Rogers was 11-17 for 144 and a TD pass. Included in those 144 yards, was a 49-yard pass to Freshman Stevie Jenkins. Rogers accounted for 3 touchdowns and managed the game nearly to perfection for UNLV. Is he going to be a gun-slinging, throw for 300+ yards a game and remind fans of Peyton Manning or Eli Manning while at Tennessee or Ole Miss playing quarterback? No, but he doesn’t have to be. Rogers plays a lot like other quarterbacks in similar offenses in the SEC and ACC. His skill set is unlike any other QB in football right now. There aren’t too many QBs with his size, speed, and athleticism on rosters in college football or in the NFL.

While I agree Rogers needs to improve on certain aspects of his passing game, let’s not overlook the improvements he’s made while at UNLV, or the potential impact he makes with his legs at any given time during a game. Armani threw for 52.4% completions in his first season as the starter (10 games). Last season he took a step back numbers-wise by throwing for 44.4% completions (in just 6 games, 5 starts due to injury). If Rogers can stay between 65% and 72%, UNLV will be in great shape (providing he stays healthy). Rogers was in the top 5 in rushing yards prior to going down with an injury last year (when he rushed for 565 yards) and rushed for 780 the year before as the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year.

Rogers’ game is so dynamic that teams are forced to scheme for his running ability as well as his passing ability. With Rebel weapons like wide receivers Randal Grimes, Tyleek Collins, Stevie Jenkins, Mekhi Stevenson, and Darren Woods Jr. on the outside, Rogers finally has a talented group that can make plays for him after the catch. You can add Charles Williams, Courtney Reese, Darren Williams and Tyree Jackson as weapons out of the backfield as well. Rogers shouldn’t feel any pressure to be something he isn’t. All he has to do is play his game.

 

The Rebels gave up 23 points to SUU, so how much will Arkansas St. Northwestern, Boise St. and Vanderbilt score on UNLV?

The Rebels’ first two defensive units gave up 7 points in total and did an excellent job getting off the field on 3rd down. While they would like to create more turnovers, it was refreshing to see this type of defense on display from UNLV. In years past, when there was almost no pressure on the opposing QB, teams marched down the field on the Rebels. This was not the case at all on Saturday night. With giving up the  16 points in the 4th quarter,  the safety is a miscue on Jackson’s part on a kickoff, the third team defense showed some promise with a young group of guys who for the most part are making their first appearance in a college game.

The Rebels’ speed and athleticism are easy to see compared to years past. Tim Skipper and the defensive staff did an outstanding job targeting and recruiting players that could make an impact this year and most importantly fit his scheme. For example, RayShad Jackson, the University of Florida grad transfer, had a huge impact for the Rebels during the game. He was dominant against SUU and when he hit an opposing player, you could see the player go back a few yards. Jackson and the Rebels’ prized recruit of the 2019 UNLV recruiting class Vic Viramontes lined up next to each other for a few series and the offense had negative yards in those series. Getting Nick Dehdashtian back to team with Kolo Uasike and Tavis Malakuis upfront was huge for Skipper and the Rebels’ defense. The depth UNLV has on defense is unprecedented for the Rebels, as is the speed, length, and athleticism, which is going to cause opposing offenses fits. Add in Javin White, Gabe McCoy, and Freshman Jacoby Windmon, the Rebels have some freaks on their defense, unlike past years.

This is the foundation year for the new UNLV defense, one that could be very good for a long time under Skipper. This Rebels defense is big, fast, strong, physical, and not scared to fly around and make plays.

 

…What could this mean?

Let me start by saying this isn’t a shot at anyone, but it is just my observation. In my business, you’re always trying to find a story. We watch games for good storylines. In fact, that’s what we root for–a great story or storyline. We search social media for stories and from time to time make a story out of nothing, whether it has merit or not. We look at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts and try to read between the lines to see if there is any story or controversy to report. I’m guilty of this, but now I ask myself and others why? What if there is no story? What if a player was taking things off their social media because they rethought what they posted or re-tweeted or changed the profile picture because they wanted to update it with a new one? Are they supposed to keep that picture on their account for the rest of their lives? Why not ask a question (privately) prior to posing that question only to make yourself look like you’re reaching to create a story or controversy?

I personally don’t like to report on the players outside of the team UNLESS it’s something about the community service they are doing or a positive, feel-good story. I feel this way because in my business far too many good reporters fall into the trap of wanting to be first on a story or want to make a splash by reporting a spicey story (and again I say, I have been guilty of this). We have gotten lazy and lost that fire that got some into this business, which is a shame because there are some really good writers who are now doing the bare minimum or creating stories for clickbait.

The reason why I personally won’t “break a negative story” is because we see far too many of them while the stories that empower, uplift, and send a positive message to the public go unnoticed nowadays. Do I know more about what I report in most cases? Yes, most reporters do. Will I share it publicly? No. In fact, on the sideline of the UNLV/SUU game, former Rebels’ running back Lexington Thomas was talking with me and my fellow Franchise Sports Media staff. A subject came up where I gave an honest and truthful response which caused Thomas to say, “How do you know everything that goes on? You know things that only we in the locker room know and you don’t report it. That’s another reason why everyone in the (UNLV) program respects you.”

Yes, I have an obligation to report news, but I also have the choice of how to report it and when to report it. I also have an obligation to report the correct news. If I get it wrong, I will retract the story and apologize, like I did when I incorrectly reported that Thad Matta was going to be the UNLV head basketball coach. I owned the fact that I had bad information, apologized for reporting it, and retracted the report. I respect all my colleagues and the job they do and this is not a shot at them by any means. They all do a great job in their own right, covering whatever they cover from sports to politics to entertainment, in whatever city they work. I am also challenging myself and them to do a better job at not creating a narrative that is false.

 

Let’s be real about UNLV footballUNLV Flight Crew

Let’s be EXTREMELY HONEST about UNLV football and the expectations some have for it. The Rebels are NOT Alabama, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Miami or LSU. There isn’t that type of history in this program. So to think that the Rebels will be a powerhouse right now is unrealistic. The turnaround was going to take 4-6 years and this is year 5. If you don’t see the progress in the program, then I have no clue what you’re watching or expecting.

Name the last big-time recruit that came to UNLV prior to Rogers or Viramontes? Now that the Fertitta Football Complex is done and Allegiant Stadium is getting set to open in 2020, the Rebels and the coaching staff have a huge advantage recruiting over other schools in the MWC and can compete with Power-5 schools. UNLV has been able to sell some recruits that are passing on Power-5 schools on Sanchez’s vision and they already have to committed to the Rebels. If they have a year that gets them to a Bowl game and the staff remains intact, this really is the dawn of a new era and a chance for UNLV to not only write their own history, but make it as well.

 

Joe Arrigo

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