Rebels Football:

Freshman receiver looking to build on solid debut in UNLV’s home opener

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AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

UNLV quarterback Blake Decker warms up before an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, in Tucson, Ariz.

The Rebel Room

Sunshine, Beatdowns and Knife-Wielding Punters

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Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern make sense of UNLV's 45-point loss at Arizona while exploring the ways things will get better thanks to this week's opponent, Northern Colorado.

College debut. More than 50,000 people in the stands. National audience watching on ESPN. Devonte Boyd thought these things might affect him as he took the field at receiver for UNLV last Friday night at Arizona.

The Basic High grad had been waiting more than a year for this moment because grades kept him away from the field in 2013. Yet from the first snap, Boyd couldn’t have looked more comfortable.

“When I got out there, I forgot that we were playing on ESPN and just went out there and played football, something I’m used to doing,” said Boyd, who caught six passes for 102 yards in UNLV’s 45-point loss.

That whetted Boyd’s appetite, but the outcome left a bad taste in his mouth. The Rebels get a chance to move past that at 7 on Saturday night with the home opener at Sam Boyd Stadium against Northern Colorado.

Although you can’t bet the game in town, the Rebels are listed as more than three-touchdown favorites. So as long as they tackle better than last week, the home debut for new guys such as Boyd should go better than the road version.

Of course, that’s no guarantee. UNLV has lost to Football Championship Subdivision foes in two of the past three seasons, and last week’s performance didn’t inspire much confidence.

Defensive coordinator Tim Hauck said he likes the players’ overall demeanor this week. They know they screwed up against the Wildcats, and they’re also aware that the calendar just flipped to September. There’s time to fix things, and at the top of that list is simply finishing tackles.

“We were in the right place most of the time,” Hauck said. “We gave up three huge plays because, basically, guys are in position to make plays and can’t make them.”

On the other side of the ball, this should be a much better opportunity to get a look at the running game. UNLV had to abandon its ground plans because of that deficit in Arizona, and starter Keith Whitely was on the bench after fumbling in the red zone early in the second quarter.

Offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach said the tape showed that Whitely had the ball in good position before the hit that popped it loose, so he should be back in the mix. And it will be a mix, with at least Whitely, David Greene and George Nahfahu getting a few carries.

“You’ve got to go through a few games before you get a good idea what you’ve got there,” Rosenbach said. “So that’s what we’ll do.”

Those are the things UNLV has to focus on improving this week. If there’s anything the Rebels would like to sustain from their debut, it’s that passing game, with Boyd and senior Devante Davis combining for 202 yards.

Boyd’s biggest sequence came at the start of the second quarter. On the first play of the quarter, he hauled in a 52-yard pass from quarterback Blake Decker, and then when Whitely fumbled during the next play, it was Boyd who recovered it.

“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” Rosenbach said. “Sometimes you worry about freshmen getting in a big stadium like that because you don’t know what they’re going to do. He stayed with it and didn’t have a lot of mental errors.”

Fellow freshman receiver Kendal Keys caught three passes for 25 yards against Arizona. Like Boyd, Keys had to wait an extra year because of eligibility issues. Also like Boyd, he seems capable of having a breakout season.

The Rebels’ young receivers have expectations on them mostly because of their raw athleticism. Rosenbach said Boyd’s best asset is that he blends the skills of Davis, a big-play threat who catches almost everything thrown at him, with the speed of senior Marcus Sullivan.

That’s what has people, including the coaches, excited, but a big reason Boyd might fulfill those expectations is that he expects those same things of himself. Boyd was the bright spot of a bad game, and he plans on doing the same in victories very soon.

“I wasn’t satisfied with what I did in the game,” Boyd said. “I got a couple of pats on the shoulders, but it wasn’t anything excellent to me because I still wanted to win.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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