Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 | 6:35 p.m.
Anyone who watched the Rebels’ practices in Ely wouldn’t know there was a quarterback battle going on at all. One player was taking the bulk of the first-team reps, and earlier today coach Bobby Hauck named that guy — junior Blake Decker — the starter for UNLV’s opening game on Friday, Aug. 29, at Arizona.
“He’s played the best, he’s separated himself and when it’s time to do that it’s time to do it,” Hauck said on naming his starter.
It’s the ninth time in the last 10 seasons that a different player than the previous season will start the year at quarterback. The only Rebel to return and start consecutive seasons is the guy who Decker beat out for the job, junior Nick Sherry.
Sherry started the past two seasons but watched most of 2013 from the sideline after senior Caleb Herring took over and helped lead the team to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Decker came in during the offseason as a transfer from Scottsdale Community College, where he put up prodigious numbers. All quarterbacks are unavailable for comment until game week.
Last season Decker passed for 4,241 yards and 47 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while also rushing for 390 yards and four scores. While he lacks significant size — Decker is listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds — his mobility and decision-making in the spread should allow the Rebels to keep their offensive system similar to last season under Herring.
“He’s got an ability to make some plays on his feet, run around and do some things that we like to see our quarterbacks do,” said second-year offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach.
Herring finished the 2013 season completing 63.2 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Herring was also the Rebels’ third-leading rusher with 346 yards and five rushing touchdowns. That was one of the best years at quarterback in recent UNLV history, so if Decker is able to even approach those numbers it will be a big positive.
Most of the guys Herring was throwing to are back to help with that process. Plus the Rebels add freshman receivers Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys, who have been two of the biggest standouts at fall camp.
Hauck said Decker was originally brought in to make sure the Rebels didn’t have a freshman in their top two at quarterback. Based on style, though, it easy to look at the move as bringing in a player that better fits the system.
“Initially you would say yes,” Rosenbach said, “but I certainly feel confident that we could adjust it to help suit Nick when Nick plays.”
Sherry is the only guy to start consecutive seasons at quarterback but he’s not the only one in the last 10 years to start multiple seasons. Mike Clausen started the opener in 2008 and then again in 2010, although it was 2009 opening game starter Omar Clayton who finished the first game and the rest of the season in 2010.
Before those guys the opening game starters were Shane Steichen (2005), Rocky Hinds (2006) and Travis Dixon (2007).
Quarterback has historically not been a strength at UNLV. While Decker would only have a maximum of two seasons leading the Rebels, the guys around him are confident he’ll be able to continue the momentum Herring started.
“He knows what we expect of him and that’s to get the ball to the guys, and we’ve got a lot of guys that we need to get the ball in their hands, and protect the football,” Rosenbach said. “That’s going to be his job.”