2016 was an up and down year for the UNLV Rebels. After only winning three games in 2015, prospects were not very high, but a promising incoming class of freshman receivers and the return of star Devonte Boyd provided fans with something to look forward to.
After opening the season with a big win against Jackson State, things quickly went south as UNLV dropped their next three games, including a demoralizing overtime loss to the Idaho Vandals. To make matters worse, the team was also plagued by the injury bug as the receiving corp (which was a strength going into the season) quickly became depleted, causing the aforementioned freshman group to contribute immediately and forcing coach Sanchez to move other players around.
Despite all the negatives that occurred throughout the season, there were also positives. Running back Lexington Thomas emerged as a feature back as he hit career highs in rushing yards (642) and touchdowns (8). In addition to Thomas, the Rebels’ stable of backs as a whole stepped up this year as the team finished 15th in the nation.
Although the team failed to make it to a bowl game, they did improve their win total by two games, providing fans with highs and lows along the way. Here are the biggest moments and players from the Rebels’ 2016 season.
2016 in review...
MVP: Lexington Thomas
As mentioned earlier, Thomas had a fantastic year for UNLV. His 642 yards may have only been good enough for second on the team (freshman Charles Williams lead the team with 763) but he established himself as the team’s workhorse. When the team takes the field next season, look for both Thomas and Williams to be relied on heavily.
Honorable Mentions: Kurt Palandech/Dalton Sneed
Though the quarterback position was a bit of a turnstile throughout the year, both Palandech and Sneed showed flashes throughout the year. Palandech was solid for the team in their thrilling triple overtime win against Wyoming, while Sneed provided one of the best plays of the year when he ran for a 91 yard touchdown against Fresno State.
Speaking of big plays...
Play of the Year: Sneed turns potential safety into 91 yard touchdown
On third and eleven and playing at the edge of their own endzone, quarterback Dalton Sneed took the snap and scrambled around the pocket before avoiding defenders and taking off for a 91 yard run. The run goes down as the longest in UNLV history.
While that was the biggest play of the year for the Rebels, the game itself was nothing compared to their match up with Wyoming.
Biggest Game of the Year: UNLV hosts Wyoming in triple OT thriller
Coming into the game, the Cowboys were on a six game win streak and undefeated in conference play. Meanwhile, the Rebels were coming off of a 30-24 loss to CSU. None of that would matter though as the game would be one for the ages as both teams put on a show.
As both teams went back and forth with scoring, The game winning field goal finally came after UNLV’s Torry McTyer picked off Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen's pass, setting up Nicolai Bornand for the game winning kick.
In addition to the victory, UNLV had a record day as quarterback Kurt Palandech had a career high 252 yards passing and ran for another 157. The offense as a whole had 401 rushing yards thanks to the trio of Palandech, Xzaviar Campbell, and David Greene.
Wide receiver Devonte Boyd also had a big day, hauling in 10 catches for 127 yards, tying a school record.
If that was the team’s biggest game of the season, their loss to Idaho is definitely the biggest shocker...
Biggest Shocker of the Year: UNLV loses to Idaho in overtime
Having lost two road games to UCLA and Central Michigan respectively, the Rebels were ready to get home in front of their fans and get their second win of the season. Unfortunately Idaho had other ideas. The Vandals took the fight to the Rebels early on by jumping out to a surprising10-0 lead. Although they were able to capture the lead at one point in the game, the Rebels never seemed as they were fully engaged in the game and eventually lost 33-30 in overtime.
Looking ahead to 2017:
Although the team only improved their win total by two games, they showed promise in other areas. They were able to score 31.6 ppg despite various injuries and inconsistencies on offense. A main contributor of that was the emergence of a strong running game. With Lexington Thomas emerging as a feature back, and Charles Williams showing promise, the Rebels should continue to boast one of the better run games in the nation.
As they go through this off season, their main focus should be on finding a permanent starter at quarterback. Johnny Stanton was ravaged by injuries but should be good to go after only playing in four games last season. Add in the fact that the receiving corps will also be healthy once again and the Rebels could have the makings of something special.