The new sheriff in Vegas

It was certainly outside-the-box, this hiring of Tony Sanchez as head coach at UNLV. It was certainly outside-the-box, this hiring of Tony Sanchez as head coach at UNLV last December. Sanchez had just finished leading Bishop Gorman High of Las Vegas to its sixth straight Nevada state championship. The Rebels, on the other had, have had only four winning seasons since 1990. Sanchez is trying to go where no high school coach has gone before—he’s only the fifth prep coach to go straight to the top of an FBS program, and it didn’t go so well for his predecessors (Jim Bradley at New Mexico State, Bob Commings at Iowa, Gerry Faust at Notre Dame and Todd Dodge at North Texas). One of Sanchez’s advantages is his fundraising ability; he maintains a close relationship with the Fertitta family, owners of Station Casinos.

UNLV is 2-5 in Sanchez’s first season, but his players have been all-in. “Coach Sanchez is the new generation,” said Rebels quarterback Blake Decker this summer. “We go from those uniforms we had last year to the sickest uniforms in the country. That got us excited.” The word “sickest” is a term of endearment, of course. Count Boise State’s Bryan Harsin among those who think the direct line from high school to college head coach can work. “I think from Optimist football through college, there are a lot of the basics that are the same,” said Harsin. I agree that it can be done successfully—it’s just more difficult at a place like UNLV, where football has been struggled for so long and so much has to be done to change the culture and build a fan base.

Brett Rypien’s teammates kept him upright in the win over Wyoming. All eyes will be trained on that facet of the game Saturday afternoon. With starting left tackle Rees Odhiambo out and right tackle Mario Yakoo questionable, the Broncos will be challenged to set the edge against UNLV. “We’ve got to use that,” said Sanchez Monday. “I think there are opportunities out there to put pressure on Rypien. We want him to get the ball out of his hands early and get some sacks.” Boise State will need help from its tight ends—and one of those, Jake Roh, also hobbled off the field last Saturday. The Broncos have three more capable regulars at that spot, Holden Huff, Jake Hardee and Alec Dhaenens. Hardee and Dhaenens in particular are excellent blockers.

Another position group under pressure now will be the running backs. Somebody the Broncos had against Wyoming who they didn’t have in the beatdown at Utah State is Jeremy McNichols. Boise State really missed his pass-blocking in Logan. Harsin noticed that against the Cowboys as much as McNichols’ school-record 40 touches. “He had some checkdowns and took some chips,” said Harsin. That’s football vernacular for a running back in pass protection. “We didn’t have any sacks, and he made a difference that way.”

Boise State’s defense is increasingly scotch-taped together due to injuries, but it’s been pretty consistent this season. Here’s an under-appreciated stat: the Broncos are tied for third in the country by forcing an average of 5.88 three-and-outs per game. Yes, there are more of them than you think. Overall, the Broncos have forced a three-and-out or ended an opponent’s drive with a turnover without yielding a first down on 47 of 137 total possessions, or 37 percent of total drives this season.

Time to revisit Blake Renaud, and that’s a good thing. The linebacker-turned-fullback out of Boise State has been re-signed to the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad. Renaud was one of the Vikings’ final cuts before the season started. He was a blocking back in August preseason games and he delivered some licks, but he did get a few rushing attempts and even scored a touchdown.

There’s one guy who has quietly served as inspiration to Idaho’s football team this season, especially during the Vandals’ rare two-game winning streak. It really came to light yesterday in a lengthy story on the homepage of SI.com. Jace Malek, who would be a redshirt freshman this season, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer just before National Letter of Intent Day in February, 2014. Malek is still very much a part of the Idaho program, despite having his right leg amputated this summer and finding out last month that he has three to five months to live. Jace was awarded the game ball after last week’s 27-13 win over Louisiana-Monroe. And on Sunday he married his longtime girlfriend, Libby. “The fact that he can’t makes you practice that much harder for him,” said offensive lineman Justin Rose. “He’s basically my idol now.”

The only former Boise Hawk who has anything to do with the World Series is New York Mets reliever Jerry Blevins, and he’s been on the disabled list since April. I thought of Blevins and how he would have come in handy for the Mets in that 14-inning Game 1 loss in Kansas City Tuesday night. Blevins came over from Washington in a trade late in spring training and was to be a key middle reliever in New York. Then, after seven appearances and no earned runs, his arm was broken in April when he was hit by a line drive. In August, Blevins had just been cleared to start throwing again when he slipped on a curb and reinjured the arm. The 32-year-old southpaw helped the Hawks to their last Northwest League championship in 2004 with a 6-1 record and a 1.62 ERA.

The NBA has tipped off for 2015-16 with 12 former Idaho Stampede players on Opening Night rosters. Three of the Stampede alums, Cleveland’s Jared Cunningham, Detroit’s Anthony Tolliver and Atlanta’s Justin Holiday, were homegrown, meaning they were scouted, drafted, acquired and/or signed with Idaho (rather than being assigned to the Stampede by one of their NBA affiliates). Tolliver is the veteran of the group, entering his ninth NBA season. Cunningham, a second-round draft pick out of Oregon State in 2012, played for the Stamps last season. He’s already with his fifth NBA club. And Holiday, the former Washington Husky, was the Stampede’s leading scorer three seasons ago. He earned an NBA championship ring last season with the Golden State Warriors.

Troy Merritt is the only one of the three locals on the PGA Tour who’s playing in this week’s event. That presumably because the CIMB Classic is halfway around the world in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. That’s tough, expensive travel. Maybe the radical change of scenery will kick-start Merritt. Two tournaments into the 2015-16 season, he has yet to make a cut. Merritt turned 30 last Sunday. “It seems like I’ve been playing professionally for a long time, but it’s only been a short 7 years,” he tweeted.

This Day In Sports…October 29, 2003:

At the time we wondered how significant it would be over time, but it’s now a landmark day in pro basketball history. Six months after the third and final retirement of Michael Jordan, LeBron James makes his much-anticipated NBA debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 18-year-old phenom was impressive, scoring 25 points with nine assists and four steals in a 106-92 road loss to the Sacramento Kings.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.