FSM Rebel Vision
Graphic Credit: Mike Dancy II

UNLV Football Rebel Vision: UNLV vs. SDSU Film Breakdown Week 1



This FSM series will follow the UNLV Football season as a coaches analysis by FSM’s JaRon Turner. JaRon is an Arbor View alumni and former college football player who has coached high school football locally in Las Vegas for the past three seasons. This weekly segment will focus on crucial plays and factors of UNLV football games this season. This assesement will highlight plays that made a difference in the ball game, ranging from great individual effort plays, attitude runs, big hits, coaching adjustments, etc. Be sure to follow us for weekly film breakdowns throughout the 2020 season.

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UNLV vs San Diego State
Photo Credit: UNLV Football

It’s time to breakdown this past Saturday game against San Diego St. UNLV fell 34-6 in what amounted to be a tale of two halves for Rebels. In the first half, UNLV only managed to muster 25 total yards of offense with no points, while San Diego St. accumulated over 300 yards of offense and 27 points, with 158 of those on the ground.

The first half wasn’t UNLV’s best showing, but it had nothing to do with a talent disparity. UNLV matched up both in the trenches along the defensive and offensive lines and in the skill positions. However, the issues for UNLV spawned from a lack of experience, which led to breakdowns in assignments, lack of rhythm offensively, and overall lack of physicality in the first half.

In the second half, we saw a different Rebel team. The coaching staff made adjustments that worked, and the Rebels showed some life. Max Gilliam, Charles Williams, and Stevie Jenkins were keys in the Rebels’ offense, moving the ball and scoring against the Aztecs. While the defensive staff’s adjustments helped limit SDSU to just 7 points and sure up the Rebels first-half woes.


Time for Rebel Vison!

Play 1: Defending SDSU's counter

The first play we’ll discuss will be the counter, which San Diego St. ran more than 20 times against UNLV. This play accounted for more than 50% of the SDSU’s 158 rushing yards in the first half.  The running game in football has always been seen as an attitude thing; however, it is a very technical part of the offensive gameplan. Movement, correct steps, good eyes, and discipline make up a good running game. It also exposes a good rushing defense or lack thereof. For UNLV, the change in security from an alignment standpoint was undeniable. They looked more like a pro-defense in the second half in their alignment and their personnel.

However, the reason we are starting by evaluating every counterplay in the first half is that stopping that play would have drastically changed the game. Two of SDSU’s scoring plays and about 100 yards rushing came from UNLV’s inability to control that counter. In the first half, UNLV had issues fitting the counter correctly, with one or two men being out of position to take away gaps for the runner to hit. In the second half, when UNLV finally fit the play properly, started hitting run-throughs and holding gaps, and forced SDSU to go to other plays,  they kept SDSU to one touchdown and a field goal.

Play 2: Punt Block

Video Credit: CBS Sports

The next play that shows a big swing in the Rebels’ first half; the blocked punt. Many football fans undervalue the impact special teams have on a football game. Sometimes special teams make small contributions to a game that can be overlooked that significantly impact the outcome, but when you mess up on special teams, everybody notices. After a long drive by SDSU ending in another touchdown, UNLV’s offense sputtered, causing another three and out. Getting the ball out of your territory and forcing the other team to march the length of the field gives the defense more chances to make a play and get the stop. With 9:40 left in the second half, it was only 14-0 in favor of the Aztecs.

Not a very favorable situation to be in, but all hope wasn’t lost at this moment in the game. But after SDSU starting safety Trenton Thompson blocked a punt resulting in SDSU taking over on the UNLV 16 yard line, the air just left the UNLV sideline; all momentum was with the Aztecs. This play led to a five-yard touchdown run by Greg Bell, extending the lead to 21. At its core, this play only happened because of a missed assignment by the UNLV punt team. The personal protector (the big guy behind the line of scrimmage in front of the punter) missed Thompson on a one on one situation.

The protection call and alignment were correct. Every player had a man to account for. Still, Kolo Uasike, the Rebels’ star defensive linemen who was the inside personal protector on the play, missed the block on Thompson that would have given punter Tanner Brown the extra time he needed to get the punt off. If this play doesn’t happen, UNLV may have had a chance to make a stop and keep the game tight going into halftime.

Play 3:  Rebels 2nd Half Defense

Video Credit: CBS Sports

However, after the half, UNLV returned with a new attitude that resonated through the entire team and staff. After an abysmal first half of football, the Rebels returned to show what they could do.

Defensively the Rebels clamped down on the SDSU offense, playing much more physical and focused on their keys, reacting better to the Aztec run game. But it was a pass breakup that embodied that change of attitude. It was a 2nd & 9 play. The Aztecs’ Carson Baker threw a pass to tight end Nolan Givan, only for Rebels safety Tre Caine to blast him over the middle. The big hit jarred the ball loose and was called an incomplete pass. SDSU had to punt two plays later, but the hit sent a message that this Rebels defense was not the same one SDSU had seen in the first half.

Ultimately UNLV held SDSU to only one touchdown in the second half. They completely shut the Aztecs down in the third quarter, limiting them to only 10 yards of total offense.

Play 4: Rebels Offensive Line Scrum

Video Credit: CBS Sports

The game-defining play, also the last play we’ll break down, occurred in the 4th quarter. With the first half not going the way the Rebels wanted it to go, The third quarter saw the Rebels change dramatically on offense. UNLV scored on an impressive 13 play 81-yard drive ending with a four-yard TD pass to Steve Jenkins from Max Gilliam. The Rebels flipped the script in the second half.

No play made that more evident than a 4th quarter run that symbolized the will of the team. At 14:28 in the 4th, the Rebels were faced with a 4th & 2. With the offense still on the field, the ensuing play was a handoff to star tailback Charles Williams.

Initially, Willimas was stopped dead at the line of scrimmage, but with some help from every other offensive player close to him, the runner and a giant rugby scrum fell a whole yard on the other side of the first down. I bring up plays like these because they don’t happen often, but they never happen for bad teams. They only occur on teams that show spirit, determination, and a furious will to win.

Remember, this game was pretty much out of reach at this point for the Rebels, down three scores. For the entire team to aid their Running back, for the entire offense to not just stand around and watch the man get piled on top of by a sea of black jerseys shows me that this Rebel team has real potential to change the culture of the program. Head Coach Marcus Arroyo talked about in his post-game interview and again in his Monday morning press conference. 



Final breakdown:

In conclusion, UNLV did not play their best game, whether it was the lack of experience with players on the field, limited padded practices, or the fact that the other team just played a bit better than them. Whatever it is, UNLV did take a loss, but there is still hope and room for improvement from this young Rebel team that shows some similarities to the Navy Midshipmen who started their season very rough but have now found their stride. 



Coming into rivalry week against UNR, who are coming to town after an overtime win against Wyoming, UNLV will have the pressure of keeping the Fremont Cannon red as well as their first game at their new home, Allegiant stadium


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