After a scoreless opening 10 minutes pf the first quarter in UNLV’s home opener, the crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium became a little anxious. UNLV opened its 2019 season against Southern Utah, who defeated the Rebels the last time they played in 2011. Many Rebel fans were hoping this game would not turn out like that 2011 matchup, or like the Howard game in 2017 (a 43-40 Rebel loss).
UNLV finally broke through late in the first quarter thanks to a Charles Williams 22 yard touchdown run. To use an old basketball saying, once the Rebels saw one go in, the rest would come easily. And in fact, the rest would come easy for UNLV, as the Rebels defeated Southern Utah 56-23.
Many questioned if Williams could be able to replace Lexington Thomas, and Williams quickly silenced anyone who doubted his ability. He finished the night with 143 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 15 carries.
Head coach Tony Sanchez has faith in Williams and knows he is capable of big things this year. “Chuck (Charles Williams) is going to have a big year, he’s explosive. He’ll do a really good job,” Sanchez said.
As a whole, UNLV dominated on the ground, totaling 331 rushing yards on 45 carries. Seven of the Rebels’ eight touchdowns came on the ground. Four different Rebels rushed into the endzone, including Armani Rogers, who had two.
Junior quarterback Armani Rogers showed, through the air and on the ground, that he is ready for the challenge ahead of him this season. Rogers compiled 258 total yards of offense (144 passing and 114 rushing), and three touchdowns (two rushing and one passing). It is essential that Rogers is effective as both a passer and rusher to get the Rebel offense to its full potential.
In a span of 15 minutes of game time between the second and third quarter, UNLV scored six unanswered touchdowns that extended their lead fro 14-7 to 56-7. All six of those touchdowns were scored by six different Rebels. For UNLV, it is a great sight to so many different Rebels get involved in the scoring.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Rogers had a 66 yard touchdown run where he showed agility and power to get by, and run through, several Southern Utah defenders. This is how Rogers, with his quick legs and strong frame, can add a different dynamic most teams in the conference do not have. Rogers went down for a brief moment in the third quarter after he started cramping up, he got up under his own power and was then taken out of the game.
Another highlight from Rogers was the deep throw he made to Steve Jenkins. In the second quarter, Rogers completed a 49 yard pass to the 5’11” freshman Jenkins. The pass got UNLV into the red zone and lead to a Rebel touchdown.
Rogers said that they have been working on that play since the beginning of summer practice. He knew that when they called the play and saw the matchup that he was going to make the throw. “I was proud of him (Jenkins) for his first college catch to be a big one,” Rogers said.
Not to be lost in the 56 points put up by the offense is the solid play from the starting defense. Through the first 50 minutes, the Rebels held Southern Utah to only seven points. With some third and fourth stringers in late in the game, UNLV gave up two touchdowns and make a special teams gaffe that resulted in a safety which lead to 16 unanswered Thunderbird points.
“They did a great job, when the offense is trying to find themselves and their rhythm, the defense did a really good job not getting behind the eight-ball,” Sanchez said. “We were really impressed with that, the pass rush was good...I thought the defense did a really good job through the duration of the game.”
Evan Austrie lead UNLV with nine total tackles, and he had a sack and a tackle for loss. Florida graduate transfer Rayshad Jackson had six total tackles, half a sack, and a tackle and a half for loss.
A shining star from the Rebel defense was third stinger Bryce Jackson, the sophomore from Arizona made his presence known in the second half. He had five tackles (two for a loss), and two sacks. Jenkins also had excellent coverage in the secondary, so expect to see more of Jackson in the Rebels’ rotation.
The first week of play is usually plagued by sloppy play and penalties. However, the Rebels only committed one penalty, a false start late in the fourth quarter when the game was already in hand, and Sanchez was very proud. “One thing I was really impressed with was the discipline of our team,” Sanchez said.
“You didn’t see any false starts, you didn’t see a bunch penalties for lining up wrong, defense didn’t jump offsides,” Sanchez continued. “So that was really really good.”
This is only one game, and the Rebels did what they were supposed to do against a lesser opponent. Next week will be a much bigger task, as UNLV welcomes Arkansas State to Sam Boyd. Last season, the Red Wolves defeated the Rebels in Arkansas 27-20.
UNLV will have revenge on its minds and will have to be ready for the step up in competition. The Red Wolves were picked to finish second in the Sun Belt, while receiving a few first place votes. UNLV will have to clean up the small mistakes and continue to be efficient on both sides of the ball if they want to defeat Arkansas State.
“We have to keep moving forward and fix the little details that we had, and the errors in the game,” Rogers said. “And execute on the big time plays we had because we are not going to get many chances on them, and when we do get the chance we have to capitalize on them.”