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Tony Sanchez still has much work to do at UNLV

Think of the fundraising efforts for state-of-the-art facilities as a piston, the decorated recruiting class as a crankshaft, the vast social media presence to engage a community as a water jacket.

All necessary parts.

But as UNLV’s football program sits, there is no cylinder on which to bolt them. The engine isn’t near constructed under coach Tony Sanchez and won’t be until the most important of all components is discovered.

Which is to say more checks in the win column.

Sanchez’s second year leading the Rebels concluded with a thud louder than any dragster firing down a strip, a forgettable 45-10 loss to rival UNR on Saturday that saw the Wolf Pack wheel the Fremont Cannon out of Sam Boyd Stadium in search of a proper blue paint job (sans profanities) and many of those issues that led to UNLV finishing 4-8 rearing their ugly head.

“It’s hard,” Sanchez said. “As a coach, you have to use it as a way to motivate your guys. We sat down and talked about it. Are we better than that? Do we have more piss and vinegar in us than that? Our guys know that they do. There isn’t a lot I would have done differently (this season). By us recognizing areas we need to teach differently and get better at, it will make a major impact.”

Sanchez is 7-17 as UNLV’s coach, and it’s absolutely true many of the key periphery elements to building a successful program have vastly improved under his watch. There would be no impending arrival of the Fertitta Football Complex without him, no shovel in the ground next spring to begin rising what could prove over time the most important athletic facility in school history.

It at least will make UNLV football relevant in the college arms race for the first time.

Sanchez did this.

But while the Rebels will cite various statistics to paint a picture of some improvement on the field — and they have done so when glancing solely at specific numbers — such development isn’t near the level it needs to be for sustained success.

It’s all relative based on what a coaching staff inherits. When you begin the bar at ground level, raising it to your kneecaps can’t and shouldn’t be overly celebrated.

Simply, the product remains below average on most fronts.

A few to consider …

The good: UNLV is stout and young and promising at one of the most critical spots in the offensive line. It has a position coach (John Garrison) who is doing a terrific job building what helped produce the Mountain West’s fourth-best run game on average. A deep stable of running backs behind that line is also quite skilled, and yet it’s a group that needs to be far more physically tough and capable of playing through the predictable bumps and bruises of a 12-game season.

The bad: The fact UNLV’s defense just offered its best statistical showing in eight years proves how truly abominable the Rebels have been on that side of the ball. This might be one of those rare times when a need to replace seven seniors is looked upon as a positive.

The Rebels couldn’t get anyone off the field on third down and surrendered averages of 37 points and 430 yards. They were beyond bad on the edge defending the pass and ranked 10th among Mountain West teams in sacks. Just awful stuff all around.

The ugly: It’s impossible to believe UNLV could get any worse on special teams when it comes to returning and covering kicks, skills that need to be taught much better by coaches and to better athletes.

The bright side: Coaches are convinced Armani Rogers is the answer at quarterback and were smart to stick with redshirting the freshman once injuries hit the position this season. Rogers needs to be the answer, because those who played the spot this season can’t win consistently at this level. Nice kids, but just not good enough.

Also, the injuries that decimated wide receiver and led to a serious lack of depth that played a part in special teams being such an inadequate area should be healed when things kick off in 2017.

“I told our guys that a year ago Wyoming sat in the locker room after winning four games one year and two the next, same team meeting on the exact same day, and their (coaches) challenged those guys,” Sanchez said. “What did they do? They’re playing (San Diego State) for the conference championship this week.

“There was no woe is me or feeling sorry for themselves. Just man up and go to work and keep working hard. Don’t worry about outside noise and keep driving forward and keep doing what we’re doing and get better.”

The part many hate to hear: Football coaching staffs, if NCAA rules aren’t being broken and players aren’t finding themselves in trouble with the law, need four to five years to build what was a blown engine upon their arrival, what has been a connecting rod punching a hole in the block for decades now at UNLV.

Sanchez has a lot of work to do. His isn’t a good football team today. The loss to UNR was embarrassing on countless levels.

But anyone who expected the Rebels to be running like a new Mercedes two years into his tenure were fooling themselves.

And, well, not at all realistic.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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