Ron Kantowski:

UNLV coach Mike Sanford deserves credit for game adjustments

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Sam Morris

UNLV wide receiver Ryan Wolfe reaches for the ball after colliding with Hawaii defensive back Mana Silva in the second half of the Rebels’ 34-33 victory over the Warriors at Sam Boyd Stadium on Sept. 19.

UNLV vs. Hawaii

Omar Clayton hit Phillip Payne for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in the game as UNLV beat Hawaii 34-33 Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

UNLV vs. Hawaii

UNLV players celebrate their 34-33 defeat of Hawaii. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Hawaii Postgame

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech break down the circus that was UNLV's 34-33 victory over Hawaii on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, take a look at how the win resurrects the Rebels following the heartbreak of a week ago and also take a look ahead to next week's trip to Wyoming.

Next game

  • Opponent: Wyoming
  • Date: Sept. 26, 12 p.m. PST
  • Where: Laramie, Wyo.
  • TV: None
  • Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM

This one is on Mike Sanford.

And that’s a good thing.

During the opening minutes of Saturday night’s game against Hawaii, they flashed a graphic on the TV screen that said Sanford was 2-37 as the UNLV head football coach.

At times during the past five years it might have seemed like that. But the Rebels have never been that bad under Sanford. (The graphic shorted him 10 wins. With Saturday’s win, Sanford improved to 13-37.) Oh, they’ve been bad at times, lots of times, and when they have, Sanford has by and large shouldered responsibility for it.

That’s why this one — the Rebels’ thrilling 34-33 victory over a decent Hawaii team in front of a big crowd (for UNLV anyway) of 29,717 at Sam Boyd Stadium — is on him.

If it is part of a head coach’s job description to accept blame for failure, then it follows he should receive credit for success. This is especially true when you make a halftime adjustment like the one Sanford came up with on Saturday with the Rebels on the verge of being run off the field turf by the Islanders and their hulking quarterback, Greg Alexander.

UNLV trailed only 20-14, but it was much worse than that. The Rebels had elected to match fire with fire, or at least pass with forward pass, and nearly got Hawaii Five-O’d. In reality, they got Hawaii 341’d, which was the number of yards Alexander passed for in the first half.

Alexander attempted 34 passes. The Rebels didn’t get to him once. It was easier than taking candy from a baby. It was like taking a mai tai from a drunken tourist at a luau. Alexander was turning the UNLV secondary into tiny bubbles and UNLV did not have the resources to stop him.

That much must have been apparent to Sanford, too. So at halftime, he MacGyvered a way for the Rebels to contain Hawaii and not only be successful, but also win.

He might have noticed that the Warriors appeared a little soft in the defensive line. So rather than have Omar Clayton continue to throw down field into double- and triple-coverage that resulted in two first-half interceptions, the Rebels started mixing in running plays with those passes. A lot of running plays.

The Rebels took the second half kickoff and marched — or at least trudged — 67 yards in 16 plays. It took them nearly nine minutes to trudge that far, only to miss a field goal. It was like watching paint dry — in Cleveland.

That was by design. Not missing the field goal, but holding the ball for nearly nine minutes. Sanford said the defense needed a rest. What Sanford didn’t say is that the Rebels needed to keep Alexander off the field. On this night, that would be the only way to prevent him from hanging pineapple slices all over the secondary.

Hawaii possessed the football for only 2:09 of the third quarter.

The Warriors ran only four offensive plays.

The UNLV defense rested.

It even put some pressure on Alexander, sacking him twice in the second half.

With the Rebels having reverted to two dimensions on offense, it kept the Hawaii defense honest. The Warriors weren’t able to gang up on the UNLV receivers quite as much. Clayton made smarter choices, which is easier to do when you are throwing passes to underneath guys in single coverage. After a spotty first half, Clayton was outstanding in the second. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 221 yards for two scores and was not intercepted.

It was Clayton who directed the game-winning 14-play, 67-yard drive. It was Clayton who found his favorite receiver in clutch situations, Phillip Payne, on a fade pass in the corner of the end zone with 36 seconds remaining. It was Clayton and Payne who received much of the credit in the aftermath of the crucial victory, after which Gatorade flowed in the dressing room.

Not that many people wanted to talk about halftime adjustments, and when they did, Sanford deflected the praise toward his offensive and defensive coordinators and the other assistants.

You could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. It was a few minutes before midnight — these 8 p.m. starts combined with 91 forward passes and a like number of TV timeouts would be like sitting through “Ishtar” if the endings weren’t so darn exciting — and Sanford seemed disappointed the radio guys wanted to sign off.

He said he loved talking about football, about winning, and that the Rebels would be doing a lot more of that this year.

Only this time, it sounded different.

This time, it sounded legit.

This time, that’s on him.

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  1. Sufferin,

    I don't think you get nearly as much exposure to the team as this writer does.

    I dislike Sanford as much as the next person, but I think I believe the writer when he says some adjustments were made. You could definitely tell there was a different UNLV team out there in the 2nd half.

    I give more credit to the players yes, I mean they were the ones, and will always be the ones who go out there and produce the results. But bashing a coach who's probably heard it all isn't going to drive any point home. Plus, the guy has a base salary of $150,000. I'm sure no matter what you say about him, he's going to laugh it off, jump in a Lexus and go have a $300 prime rib.

    GO REBS!

  2. @ Sufferin'

    Here are some facts, even though facts have never stopped you from arguing against them.

    1st Half - 342 yards passing

    2nd Half - 140 yards passing

    Either the coaches made some half time adjustments, the team started implementing the original game plan, or we went into Hawaii's locker room during half time kidnapped their QB and put in a look alike imposter. The third option seems unlikely. If it is the 1st or 2nd option the coach needs some praise. You are right though, the kids are the ones who have to play each down and deserve most of the credit.

    It drives me crazy when armchair quarterbacks swear they could be a better play caller during a game than any coach. Even the worst coach in the world could call a game better than any of us who have never done it. This is not a videogame. Opposing coaches can change their game plans, change personnel, change formations or call audibles. There is no way we could even comprehend what goes into coaching. I coached volleyball, which has infinitley less gameplanning than football, and that was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

    I saw the so called "non-handshake". I don't see the big deal or what he did that was so wrong. It is much ado about nothing. It was a diversion started by the Hawaii fans and those who were proven wrong on Saturday, i.e., Sufferin, have run wih it because they cannot think for themselves. Rediculous.

  3. look... normally sufferin' is way out on left field. this time he's only slightly out of his mind. the coaching staff looks lost a lot of the time. they often have trouble getting the right personnel and packages in the game. TWO time outs vs oregon state because of it. little better vs hawai'i. anyways, having a two dimensional offense should be a GIVEN not a half time adjustment. so frustrating. go rebels.

  4. and btw.. what a sick picture of wolf one handing the catch. the db was so awe inspired his hat came off.

  5. Sufferin - you're posts not only are a waste of your time, but ours as well. We all know Sanford is gone if he doesn't get us to a bowl game, and he stays if he does. Shut up already, we know you don't like him, but the players do. If they start to string together wins, that's all that matters.

  6. Look, for once sufferin' is right. I watches that game and the coaching staff didn't make any play changes until the last drive of the game against hawaii. me and my dad were both yelling at the tv the entire game long! We were yelling because of the 6 and 7 man d-line that they kept putting against hawaii's offense. Look anyone knows that when you have a 99% passing team you do not put 6 or 7 guys on the line! you go with a form of a 3-4 and play the WR's straight up! and we didn't see any of that until that last drive of the ballgame!!! You think that it was coincidence that their QB had to throw it away twice and didn't complete 2 passes in that last drive! I dont think so!
    It's like i tell my friends, and i hate to say it, but we are never going to go anywhere with this coaching staff. And until it changes we are going to have the exact the same results every year that we have been seeing.

  7. Jeff ur wrong. There is not enough room to post. Sufferin U are wrong as usual but a win is a win. Im sure the poeple in Hawaii are saying there defense sucks too. It was just an old shootout like the old WAC days. We all know Sanford is not the best coach but he is what we get. Who else is going to come in for 150K a year Urban Meyer? Loyd Carr out of retirement? Nick Saban. Give me a break so called fans!

  8. I'll give Sanford credit for figuring out by halftime what most of us knew BEFORE the game even started - our defense can't stop traffic by standing in it let alone stop the Hawaii offense.

    If the game plan was to win a shootout with Hawaii, then yes, Sanford deserves a small dose of credit for figuring out it wouldn't work before the game was over.

    That alone is a leap of improvement in his coaching over the past five seasons.

    But come on, Ron K!! Six years into his head coaching tenure and it take a half of getting smoked on D to figure out we need to control the clock to win??!!

    That is NOT progress. It's something a coach should have figured our BEFORE the game starts.

    You could have polled the fans in the stands and they would have told you we had no chance of stopping the Rainbow Warriors on offense.

    The outcome was in our favor this time. But it doesn't change the overall dynamic of this team:

    The defense is weak, just as weak as it was last season. We can't stop any half decent offense, and our own offense is not high powered or efficient enough to beat the majority of teams we play this year by outscoring them.

    If we control the clock and shorten the game, keep our offense on the field and our defense on the bench for as long as possible, we might win enough games to go bowling.

    If we go into every game with a run and shoot we'll outscore you and win mentality, we're headed for another 5-7 (or worse) season.

  9. Gasp! I halfway agree with Succotash because:

    A) I do believe the will and skill of the players provided the fuel for victory.

    B) Sanford and his staff are still football DUMB.
    i. Hawaii 4th down at midfield and our db intercepts instead of batting the ball away. The poor field position leads to Clayton's pick.
    ii. You're 2 for 2 on 4th down during that 3rd quarter drive and you elect to kick facing 4th and goal? Kicker clanks one and you still haven't scored; bad decision.

    Sanford did get it right using Trotter finally, as Hawaii had no answer for him. However, the talent of Phillip Payne is immeasurable because he bails everyone out.

    If Sanford deserves any credit, it is surrounding himself with talented ball players who have the athleticism to cover up the inept (at times) coaching staff. As the poster above said: Watching the Rebels' tactical errors are infuriating.

  10. Oh, and one more thing...the handshake WAS ridiculous. Wish Sanford would act like he's been there after a victory for pete's sake.

  11. Payne and Anthony dwarfed the Hawaii DB's. We should have been taking advantage of that all game.

    I hope the Rebels aren't looking past Wyoming at Reno. We want the cannon back, but all in due time. Go Rebels!

  12. FYI-

    This is Sanford's 5th season.

    I was more disappointed in the little mistakes they made with illegal formations and such. 3rd game and we don't have it together yet? We had a touchdown taken away on a too many men in the back field penalty and on the next possession Clayton threw the tipped ball interception.

    Still, all and all, sure glad we won. Oh...and who gives a crap about the weak handshake...does it really matter to the outcome of the game or Sanford's future? No.

  13. Sufferin needs to get a life. He's been bitter ever since he got fired. I rarely agree with Kantowski but he's right when he says you have to give Sanford credit for wins if you're going to criticize him for losses. This was a nice win, now move on to Wyoming.

  14. @ Camron

    Dude, it's embarassing. This team is supposed to be "on the rise". He made that post game mid-field exchange look like UNLV just snapped a 40-game losing streak. Act as-if, man, act as-if. Look the part and you become the part.

  15. When this coach makes the post season I will shoot him over some credit. Until then keep trying buddy.

  16. I think this team has a chance to win as long as we can RUN the ball. We did a great job on managing the 2nd half offense,but the defense really stepped up and shut down the running game of Hawaii. KUDOS to the ENTIRE TEAM! It takes a TEAM effort to win games,not just ONE COACH!! FYI - - Sanford can only take credit if the players play to WIN! and play together....

  17. All posters have made good insights into this game, I am glad UNLV won but the adjustments that were made at halftime should have been made after the 1st Hawaii drive for a td. I agree I am not sure if Sanford is the answer for the program but he is what we have right now so in that respect I hope he succeeds. I am a firm believer that you win with speed on both sides of the ball & it is obvious that our base 4-3 defense doesn't fit to the style of our players at all. The problem is that the coaching staff could give a crap about what fans think or want, they have their style and that is what they are going to stick with no matter what. That's what coaches do!!
    Do the Rebels have heart? YES. Will heart get you into postseason play alone? NO. If this defense cannot find a way to apply pressure consistantly we are going to lose more games then we win this year. We cannot apply pressure up the middle at all, & the only pressure we get is when Beauchamp is playing DE. I say get those big Samoans out of there & put somebody in there much more athletic with speed that can get off their blocks and get into the backfield. In college football you dont necessarily have to have 320 lb. DT's, look at TCU's defense, small d-lineman that are fast and look at the havoc they wreak.
    I have been saying this since last year, if you get pressure on the QB consistantly you will win games at every level. That is the major problem with our defense IMO, we do not get any penetration at all which could be the result of 1 of 2 things or both, bad play calling, & non-athletic lineman that cannot get off their blocks. Anyways I will root for the Rebels and hope somehow they figure this out before it's too late.

  18. @Gray

    To me, embarrassing would be something outlandish like Sanford swearing at McMackin or punching him. I did think it was interesting watching him run across the field like that but still Gray, who cares? And if you do, why? Last year he cried after beating ASU and I didn't hear anyone saying act as if you've been there. I guess I'm just simple: we won, that's all I need to know. Minus tactical fixes of course, which can come the next week.

  19. Gray, one more thing, JRob looked the part and look where he left us.

  20. Camron...it just bugged me, you know? Sanford can be kind of a meatball. But hey, like you said, it's nice to be sitting at 2-1.

    J-Rob? Sanford has some distance to travel before getting to his level, which was average.

  21. I worked for the team during JRob's era, there was no emotion or fire with those teams and coaching staff. Except for Coach Brad, and he's the only one still with the team.

  22. good stuff

  23. I also forgot to point out that Rodney Bradley had our db's beat deep with seperation and was overthrown 6x by Greg Alexander which was pointed out by Mike Prichard doing the play by play commentary. If he had completed even 3 of those passes the Rebels lose this game by 3 td's. Here is someone who was a college great & a good pro for many years & he said it was obvious the safeties were lost on defense & looked like they didn't know their assignments. He said, thank God Alexander is not an accurate passer or this game would have been long over. We wone but we cannot be happy with how we won. This team has some major adjustments to make on a real short notice and I don't know if they can pull it off. Frankly I am concerned about our defenses inability to shut anybody down. We are going into the 4th week & I don't really see any improvements from last year. Anyways we should beat Wyoming but Reno, BYU, Utah, & TCU are going to torch us bad unless something changes real fast.

  24. Umm, Jerry, I was around those teams too. Did you forget about the 2000 season? There was plenty of fire with that squad, bud.

  25. Sufferin is wrong but at least he knows how to space out his post.

  26. A belated congrats to Mike Sanford and the Rebels! Keep up the good work, the Rebels are a
    very good team and I really expect them to continue to do well!!

  27. Grayback - you mean the team that for the most part Horton recruited?

  28. It was good to see the Rebels pull out the win. The running game was really working for them. The Warriors couldn't stop it or the passing game for that matter. But from the play calling it looked like UNLV was trying to match the passing game of Hawaii. That almost cost UNLV the game. When you can have a 12+ minute drive keep pounding them. Especially when your starting RB has 32 yards or so on his first 3 carries. Shorten the game and keep your D and Hawaii's O off the field.

  29. @ JerryWayne

    and what did Horton did Horton do with his recruits?

  30. Jerry, what does that have to do with anything? JRob's squad had fire and emotion in 2000. That's on HIS watch. There was more in 2003 when we waxed Wisconsin on their own field and started 4-1.

    Any way you slice it, Jerry, Sanford has not eclipsed John Robinson. He hasn't even begun to sniff his rear-end.

  31. I admit, Sufferin is right, JRob did bring a bunch of juco guys over. And some of his recruits turned out to be my favorite Rebels. But how many players did we lose from that team? Nate Turner, Randy Black, and John Greer are the only names that come to mind. They leave and we go 4-7! Those three guys (2 are Horton's) must have had a whole lot of fire and emotion.

    @reagan21 - a lot of the people that I went to school with that worked for the team prior to me, thought that Horton was on cusp of turning the Rebels into a winner. The teams I worked for had a whole lot of potential, but it was downhill slide after we played Arkansas at War Memorial.

    I'm not trying to say that Sanford has done better than Coach JRob. What I am trying to say is that I'm tired of people jockin' a guy that came in with name recognition, brought in a great wide receiver, won a bowl game, and didn't do anything else for the program on the football field. Sure, he got us a new practice field and involved some of the alumni players. JRob was better for the community than he was for the team.

  32. It was not the fault of the coaches that our DB's were getting beat in man on man coverage. In those situations they are responsible for defending the post & the fade, which they weren't doing all that well. JRob's recruiting was very sloppy in the final years, and when Sanford arrived the proverbial cupboards were proverbially empty. Not to take away from the legend, but Jro & company were all old men who really did not have the energy to actively recruit.

  33. JROB was only here for all of the paychecks, Chilis commercials and the local buffets. It was obvious he was already retired while standing on the sidelines. Besides the game was 30 years past him at that time anyways. Even at his second stint at USC right before he came to UNLV he was horrible that is where he earned the nickname Robofat.