UNLV Bowl Hopes Dealt Serious Setback with Loss to BYU
Rebels must win their final two games of the season to become bowl eligible.
UNLV loss to BYU creates must-win scenario for Rebels
The excitement that built with the UNLV Rebels jumping back into the race for bowl eligibility came crashing down on Friday night, courtesy of a 31-21 loss to the BYU Cougars in Las Vegas.
Cougars running back Squally Canada shredded the UNLV defense for a career high 213 yards on 25 carries. The junior out of Milpitas, California easily bested his previous high, 98 yards against Portland State to open the 2017 season.
This one got off to a slow start. Following a scoreless first quarter, BYU capped a 7-play 80 yard drive with Brayden El-Bakri 1-yard touchdown run six minutes into the second quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
UNLV tied things up on the ensuing drive, thanks to Lexington Thomas finding the end zone from a yard out with 4:25 remaining in the first half.
The Cougars took a 14-7 lead into the break after quarterback Joe Critchlow connected Aleva Hifo on an 11-yard touchdown pass. That’s as close as UNLV would get the rest of the game.
BYU stretched that lead to two scores in the third quarter with a touchdown run from Canada. The Rebels got one back when quarterback Johnny Stanton engineered a 8-play 73-yard touchdown drive to make things 21-14.
BYU added an Austin Kafentzis touchdown run late in the third quarter to inflate the BYU lead to 28-14. Stanton fired back with a TD pass to Devonte Boyd to make this a one-score game just under 11 minutes remaining. A BYU field goal with 5:39 remaining closed out the scoring.
The Cougars played arguably their most complete, cleanest game of what has been a mostly disappointing season. BYU was whistled for just two penalties, did not turn the ball over and Critchlow completed 14 of 22 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. They built a modest lead, and rode a potent rushing attack en route to their third win of the season.
UNLV now finds themselves facing a pair of must-win games to close out the season if they want to be considered for postseason play.
Two weeks ago the Rebels scored an improbable 26-16 win over division leader Fresno State. Last week they capitalized on that success by hanging on against Hawaii 31-23 in Las Vegas.
So 4-5 with three winnable games remaining is the hand the Rebs were dealt. The loss to BYU means 4-6, and means the pressure will be heavy for head coach Tony Sanchez the rest of the way.
Next Friday UNLV travels to New Mexico to face a Lobos squad currently taking up residence in the basement of the Mountain Division. A win there and the Rebels can become bowl eligible with a victory to close out the 2017 season at Nevada.
UNLV’s last bowl appearance was the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Rebs fell to North Texas 36-14. They’ve not won a bowl game since a 31-14 win over Arkansas in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl.
Sanchez matched last season’s win total with the win against Hawaii, but make no mistake. Back to back four-win campaigns would feel like a significant step back for a UNLV program that looked poised to become a player in the Mountain West when the season began. With one win in the final two games the Rebels can claim progress, if only on paper. Bowl eligibility will set the tone for 2018.
Next Friday’s game with New Mexico kicks off at 6:30pm PT on ESPN2. The regular season finale November 25th at Reno is slated for a noon kickoff.