Darren Abate / Associated Press
Saturday 2 October 2021 | 7:45 p.m.
San Antonio –
This one felt different.
Of course, UNLV has lost every game since Marcus Arroyo took over as head coach last year, but Saturday’s 24-17 loss to UTSA was like no other. It was a game UNLV could – and maybe even should – have won.
This is what frustrated Arroyo so much after the loss, as he lambasted his players’ lack of discipline, criticized their propensity to commit penalties at the worst times and likened an error-prone player to cancer.
So yes, all the “moral victory” vibe that the team had tried to cultivate through a 0-4 start? Let’s go. In its place now is a bitter, hardened 0-5 malignancy.
“I don’t need statistics,” Arroyo said. “It was our most unruly game. We fought in many ways.
This point is indisputable, as UNLV spoiled play on both sides of the ball.
First-year quarterback Cameron Friel was propelled into the starting role due to Doug Brumfield’s knee injury and put on an admirable performance, but was sacked six times. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. The defense jumped offside on a crucial 4e-and-1 at the end of the match, giving UTSA a first try and allowing the Roadrunners to save more time.
And left-back Julio Garcia, a sixth-year senior with 19 career starts, was sent off in the fourth quarter after being flagged for a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
All the mistakes piled up, but Garcia’s absence came back to haunt the Scarlet and Gray in a particularly important way.
After UTSA missed a 45-yard field goal that would have sealed the game, UNLV had one last chance to tie or win. Friel and the offense took the field with 1:34 on the clock and easily passed the midfield. Three consecutive incomplete passes establish a 4e-and-10, however, and UTSA called its last timeout to set up its defense.
In fourth position, Friel fell back but was immediately besieged by the UTSA pass rush. He was sacked for a 9-yard loss, ending the game.
Would Garcia’s veteran presence have made a difference in the end game? Would he perhaps have given Friel a little more time to find a downstream receiver?
Arroyo seemed to think so, and he didn’t hesitate to respond to Garcia’s expulsion.
“We put ourselves in a position to hurt ourselves and let the emotions of the game get to us,” said Arroyo. “It’s the first time I’ve seen this with this group since we’ve been here. We’re going to eliminate it like cancer. It is not part of what we have done. It will be eliminated.
The UNLV did not make any players available to the media after the match.
Arroyo and his team will have plenty of time to reflect on whoever escaped, as they will have time off this weekend and will not return to the pitch until they host Utah State on October 16.
The next 13 days should tell us a lot about the UNLV football program under Arroyo’s leadership. It turns out that it may be easier to keep a team together after a resounding loss than after wasting a winnable contest, especially when the team is as hungry for victory as this one.
“When you lose your temper and have penalties and play an unruly football game in a way you’ve never played before, you limit your success,” Arroyo said. “We know what it takes to win a football game, in terms of what we’ve done here as a staff and what we’ve done in the past. We know what wins in football matches. We’re there in some of those games, but this one here, we got out of a lot of situations. “
Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.