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Winless UNLV learning valuable lessons from losses

When UNLV safety Tre Caine made an interception Saturday night against San Jose State, coach Marcus Arroyo raced off the sideline to celebrate with him.

Arroyo’s excitement came not only from the fact it was the Rebels’ first interception of the season, but it showed the walk-on safety had learned from a mistake.

On one of the first plays of the season against San Diego State, Caine didn’t get deep enough on his drop on a play-action pass from the right hash. San Diego State didn’t take advantage, but it could have been a big play.

“It was the exact kind of play and coverage four weeks later, and he got the pick,” Arroyo said. “That’s why you saw me come off the sideline and jump with him and almost break my headset. It was so exciting to see a guy like that step up in that regard.”

UNLV fell to 0-4 with Saturday’s 34-17 loss to unbeaten San Jose State, but moments like that interception let Arroyo and the coaching staff know the players are still locked in and eager to learn.

Arroyo knows it’s going to take time to build a winner at UNLV, but he remains steadfast that the program is headed in the right direction.

“Myself and my staff know this isn’t a patch-up job,” Arroyo said. “When you tear down a house and rebuild it, there’s going to be an awful lot of debris. It may look scary at times, but I’m confident with our plan and our staff, the architects of the plan, that we’ll build something successfully the right way for the long term.”

Some of those signs of progress show up in the stat sheet. The Rebels had forced only two turnovers all season coming into Saturday’s game, but they had an interception and were in position for another one that could have been returned for a score. They also forced a fumble by playing with proper technique, although the Spartans managed to fall on it.

The offense also picked up 50 percent of its third-down tries and had a few explosive plays that hadn’t showed up in past weeks.

Other signs of progress aren’t as visible, such as players doing everything they’re supposed to throughout the week, whether that’s on the practice field or in film sessions or in the classroom.

“Are guys coming in late to our building after being 0-4? No, no one shows up late,” Arroyo said. “No one’s missed COVID tests. No one is not doing what they’re supposed to be doing in an era where a lot of people would say it’s too hard. They’re not doing that. They’ve done a fantastic job.”

Quarterback battle still alive

The Rebels are still evaluating their quarterback position, as Max Gilliam and Justin Rogers basically split reps against San Jose State.

Gilliam played most of the first quarter and all of the fourth, with Rogers taking the second and third quarters. Both had moments, with Gilliam leading the Rebels to a field goal on their opening drive, the first time UNLV had scored first this season.

Rogers threw his first career touchdown pass in the second quarter and led the Rebels on a 90-yard march in the third. But there were also too many unproductive drives, and the Rebels were hurt by San Jose State racking up seven sacks.

While some of those problems came from miscommunication on the line or simply losing one-on-one battles, the quarterbacks are expected to help the line and didn’t always do so.

“The quarterbacks in our programs aren’t just robots,” Arroyo said. “They don’t just go back there and let the line handle protections. They’ve got to control protections, so there were a couple things there. It was basically Justin’s first game since high school, so he’s got to adjust to a couple protections issues, and that’s all part of learning.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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