FSM Rebel Vision
Graphic Credit: Mike Dancy II

UNLV Football Rebel Vision: UNLV vs. SJSU Film Breakdown – Week 4



This FSM series will follow the UNLV Football season as a coaches analysis by FSM’s JaRon Turner. JaRon is an Arbor View High School 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 assessment 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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This past Saturday, the Rebels played the undefeated San Jose State Spartans. UNLV showed flashes of what they hope to become, but fell short in the end.  


Four weeks into the 2020 season, UNLV has not won a game, but they have made improvements that show the team becoming more comfortable in the system. The play on the field has improved, but the Rebels have yet to put an entire game together. While still trying to sort out the on-field play, the Rebels ran into the red hot 3-0 San Jose State Spartans. They are a team that mimics UNLV, surviving a recent coaching change, rebuilding phase, and is now seeing the fruits of their labor unfold in this wacky and unpredictable season.

What truly separated these teams has little to do with talent and all to do with these three factors.


It’s time for Rebel Vison!


Play #1: The play of Justin Rogers

Video Credit: FS2

While the Rebels had put the keys to their offense in the hands of Max Gilliam, after struggling in the opening quarter of the game against San Jose St., coach Arroyo put in Justin Rogers. The TCU transfer quarterback garnered a lot of attention and excitement from the UNLV faithful, hopeful that Rogers could change the team’s losing fortunes. However, a lingering knee issue kept the young sophomore transfer on the sideline for much of the season. 

When Rogers stepped on the field, the young Rebels offense that was starting two freshman receivers instead of emerging stars Tyleek Collins and Steve Johnson, who didn’t make the trip, immediately changed and found some momentum. Rogers came in and showed excellent pocket presence, quick decision making with the football, and a real command of the huddle and the offense.

We see this in two different drives that went the distance for a touchdown: one 9 plays for 65 yards. The other, an impressive 14-play, 90-yard drive in which the Rebels had to overcome an untimely penalty by Julio Garcia, which backed up the Rebels offense 15 more yards. 

What his injection into the game did for UNLV and what it showed this analyst is that Justin is the quarterback of the future and the man that this team needs to lead it on the offensive side of the ball. Knee injury aside, Rogers showed that he isn’t just a running or mobile quarterback; he showed that he could sit in the pocket and read downfield, make good decisions with the football, and find the right guy to get the ball to in key situations.

The future of UNLV with this young rocket-armed gunslinger taking the snaps will be bright.


Play #2: Pass protection 3rd and 22 11:59 4th quarter

Video Credit: FS2

For people who have watched UNLV this season, it’s easy to see that pass protection this season has been subpar. I am surprised for what in recent memory has been a program that sports an athletic and talented offensive lineman. This season, although decimated at the left tackle position by preseason injuries, the Rebels have not been able to put a complete offensive line together, and the statistics reflect that issue. This season, UNLV has given up 21 sacks–that averages out to five sacks per game. San Jose St. accounts for seven of those. And they did it in every kind of way imaginable in this game. They did this with a four-man rush, a three-man rush, and overload blitzes.

SJSU blitzed, where the defense sent a lopsided number of defenders to one side of the line, bringing more than UNLV could block with stunts– plays where defensive linemen cross each other to confuse the O-line and hopefully create a free rusher. Anything San Jose St. could do to get to the quarterback they used, and it was successful. Now, this isn’t without saying that sometimes UNLV’s quarterbacks have held onto the ball too long, waiting for someone to get open, amounting to a coverage sack.

A sack caused by great coverage downfield forces the quarterback to tuck the ball and succumb to the pass rush. Yet this 3rd and 22 play speaks volumes to the issues presented before the UNLV coaching staff. This time around, the game-wrecker for the Rebels was Spartans’ defensive end, Cade Hall. The junior defensive end got to the quarterback three times in Saturday’s game. The third and final time was the most telling.

With a three-man rush, Hall lined up over senior offensive tackle Matt Brayton and bull-rushed him into the quarterback– a bullrush being when a defensive linemen charges into the O-linemen, jacks him up by getting under his chin and pushing him back to quarterback depth. Then gets rid of him to sack the quarterback, in this case, the quarterback was Gilliam.

Brayton had no chance. He was out leveraged. He had no way to reset or re-establish his feet, hands, and hips to slow the bull rush. He was not balanced, so he was easily thrown away to Hall to get to Gilliam. It was just not a good scene, but scenes like that permeated throughout the entire game and further exposed the inconsistency of the UNLV offensive line that ranks 114 in total sack rates and 120 in sack rates on passing downs (2nd-3rd and long, or first and long beyond the chains).

Play #3: 3rd and 1 turns into a 27 yard gain

Video Credit: FS2

After what amounted to the year’s most impressive drive for UNLV, going 90 yards in 14 plays to put the Rebels a single score away from tying the game up, the Rebels defense, who had played very well up until this point keeping the team in the game, marched back out onto the field with a chance to swing the momentum in the Rebels favor and give the offense a chance late in the third. An eight-yard hitch gave the Spartans of San Jose a short-yardage situation near midfield.

The Spartans’ offense came back out and ran what is known as a mesh concept, where two receivers cross each other at or between one to three yards upfield. This play is popular in the BIG 12 or Ohio St. offense because it can force defenders to unknowingly follow the receiver that crosses their face without realizing another receiver is coming back across the field.

In this instance, the Spartans ran the play out of a two-tight end set with both tight ends aligned to the left, and the inside tight end was designed to run into (without it being blatant pass interference) the defenders to free up the receiver coming underneath. The underneath receiver Tre Walker got the ball and took off for 27 yards, eventually leading to a touchdown from running back Kairee Robinson. 

This play is here because had UNLV not been in man coverage, the Spartans may have had to throw a more downfield pass that the Rebels could have made a play on. However, they caught the Rebels in man coverage, which poses a significant problem when confronted with the mesh play. By design, the mesh is a killer for man defense because, in man coverage, defenders have to follow the receiver everywhere, even when he crosses the field. And a mesh is built to tangle updefenders to free a receiver, primarily the receiver coming underneath the other one.

A stop here would have really given UNLV life and kept them in the game. Just a change in coverage or more communication from the defense, one guy telling the other that crosser was coming, could have eliminated this play. Also, maybe tighter coverage on second down not allowing San Jose St. to get eight, bringing up short yardage third down. No matter how you put it, this play essentially iced the game. It put UNLV down two scores again and almost popped the balloon in a sense for the Rebels.


Final Breakdown


Photo Credit: Albany Herald

Coach Brent Brennon for San Jose has his team believing and playing inspired football, the very dream he had when he took over in 2017. The 4-0 record reflects years of building up the program to be capable enough to bring in talent and instill a winning culture and attitude. No surprise, Brent Brennon and Marcus Arroyo coached together on the San Jose staff for four years from 2005-2008. When we analyze what San Jose St. looked like in years prior and what they look like now, We can make easy comparisons to this UNLV Rebels’ football team that is before us today.

This brings me to talk about the negativity coming from the fans in the Las Vegas valley. It is unacceptable that this team’s fans go out of their way to attack the program and the team itself. They are finding reasons to tear down what Coach Arroyo is trying to do without truly understanding the process.

Marcus Arroyo is trying to build a winning program that can stand the test of time. Not just win six games to get to some forgettable bowl game. He is trying to build a conference champion that could eventually challenge teams like BYU, Boise St., USC, and many other western powerhouse programs. That takes time, and the case study is San Jose St.

The Spartans’ success shows how long and arduous that process can be—demanding a great deal of time and effort to forge a competitive, championship quality team. In years prior, San Jose St. had only won a combined eight games with 29 losses, and now they are arguably the best team in the conference if we are only going by their record. At the very least, they are competitive and have a chance at the Mountain West crown. 

However, they had support from their community and their administration in the process of changing the program. If these two coaches came up at the same time, in the same program, it makes me believe that Coach Arroyo has a plan for this team. He knows what he wants to do with the Rebels program, and he knows that it will take time to get done. It doesn’t help that 2020 has taken away their spring ball, the fall camp, and 20+ different players– people like Ferrell Hester II who tremendously impacts the team.

The coaching staff hasn’t had a real chance to evaluate their talent until the first game of the season. As frustrating as it might sound, fans need to allow Coach Arroyo time to get his program to where he wants it to be, not be down on it just four games in. This is a process. With all the obstacles facing this program in this particular year, some patience would be welcomed from Rebel fans.



My final analysis says that this game shows what UNLV can be soon, when they’re healthy, at full strength, with a real chance to know who they are and what they are trying to accomplish as a program. They can be the team San Jose has been so far this season, shocking the country and making noise seemingly out of nowhere. 

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