Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 | 11:42 p.m.
Tim Hough corralled the ball and looked up to find a field filled with endless possibilities. The Rebels haven't experienced that kind of excitement much, yet it occurred over and over Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Hough, a redshirt freshman cornerback, scooped up a blocked field goal in the first quarter and zigzagged well over 100 yards overall during a 54-yard return into Idaho State territory. It seemed like it would be the highlight of the game, but it turned out to be the first real bass drop in a record-setting rave that lasted well into the night.
“This is a week that we’ve struggled with for a long time here at UNLV,” said first-year coach Tony Sanchez, “and we did what we were supposed to do tonight.”
And then some.
In an 80-8 victory against Idaho State that was over before the first quarter finished, UNLV set program records for points scored in a quarter (35), a half (52) and a game, touchdowns scored (11) and margin of victory (72) while posting the highest point total of any Mountain West team since the league started in 1999. Oh, it’s also the most points any Division I team has scored this season, and the Rebels' 517 rushing yards were seven shy of the program’s rushing record, which has stood since 1973.
The Rebels (1-3) passed only 15 times and played as many freshmen as possible, so it was obvious they weren’t trying to run up the score. But when the offensive line opens holes that big, the average first-half starting field position is in Bengal territory and Idaho State (1-3) turns the ball over six times on top of the blocked field goal, there was only so much UNLV could do once it got out of hand.
And even if Sanchez didn’t exactly feel good about it, there’s no fault to be found in fans who are used to being on the other side of these nights enjoying the moment.
“Nothing. We just wanted to score one more point (than them),” Sanchez said when asked what it meant to score 80, a mark not even his Bishop Gorman High teams reached. “Really, at the end of the day I wish we wouldn’t have even got there.”
But they did, and the players sure enjoyed getting there. It started fast with a two-play scoring drive less than a minute into the game and rarely slowed down from there.
Freshman running backs Xzaviar Campbell — 139 yards, two touchdowns on nine carries — and Lexington Thomas — 106 yards, one touchdown on seven carries — had a combined 100 rushing yards coming into the game, and through three games no UNLV running back had scored a rushing touchdown. That was a point of emphasis throughout the week among the backs and offensive linemen. Six touchdowns and a 9.6-yards-per-carry average later and it’s clear the message was received.
“It’s a little thing we call GATA,” Campbell said.
As in, Get After That A**. It’s a mantra Sanchez popularized at Gorman and has brought with him to UNLV.
Even with so much going right for UNLV, the margin doesn’t get this out of hand without a lot going wrong on the other side. A week after losing 52-0, Idaho State coach Mike Kramer didn’t hide his frustration.
“Demoralizing,” he said. “The bottom of the barrel. I hope.”
UNLV was 2-2 against Division I-AA teams the past four seasons, and last year’s victory was by a single point. Sanchez can say he doesn’t care about margin all he wants, but there’s no point in trying to tell anyone who attended last year’s Northern Colorado game and tonight’s party that they count the same.
This was different, and while Sanchez said the players weren’t smiling and celebrating while piling up points, it sure looked like they felt different, too.
“All of that frustration kind of piled up, and then it came into an offensive explosion for us,” said senior quarterback Blake Decker.
The beginning of the Rebels’ schedule was a slate they had to survive. Saturday night started the next stage, one in which they can contend and occasionally, or at least once, dominate.
It won’t be hard to move past the record-setting night because the next one, Saturday in Reno with the Fremont Cannon on the line, unquestionably matters more than the rest.
“Right in the middle of our locker room there’s a big platform and it’s empty, and that’s depressing every single day we walk in there,” Sanchez said.
Hough knows about the rivalry. A Desert Pines High grad, he started in place of injured senior cornerback Fred Wilson and registered two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup, and his corner blitz led directly to the team’s lone sack.
Yet as good as he was, as good as the Rebels were, it could have been even better if Hough had finished off his circus return in the first quarter.
“I just saw green light,” Hough said. “… I tried my hardest to get in the end zone. Ran out of energy, though.”