Published Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 | 11:12 p.m.
Dalton Sneed did more than manage the game and UNLV’s rushing attack paved the way to a 1-0 start in Mountain West play with a 45-20 victory against Fresno State tonight at Sam Boyd Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 17,811.
Sneed’s 91-yard touchdown run, the longest play in program history, was the big highlight, but he was great on the ground the entire game. More important, he didn’t make any big mistakes, throwing for a touchdown and 129 yards on 8-of-16 passing with no interceptions.
Freshman running back Charles Williams, a Fresno native, just outpaced Sneed on the ground with 153 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries (Sneed had 147 rushing yards) and together the Rebels ran for 364 yards, the same number they had in last week’s loss to Idaho. That part was dominant, though the outcome wasn’t always assured.
UNLV’s defense got good pressure up front, but they again gave up several long pass plays, and the offense had a few three-and-outs at a time when it needed to use the clock. After a blowout victory, though, those things fade into the background.
They’ll be big concerns next week at San Diego State, but for now the Rebels snap a three-game losing streak and for the fourth time in five years open league play with a victory. Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report from the Rebels’ victory.
Johnny Stanton is injured so redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed will make his first career start at quarterback on Saturday against Fresno State. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss their expectations for him and the rest of the season following a 1-3 nonconference record.
The Rebels (1-3) are going from one game they were supposed to win to another home game as a sizable favorite today against Fresno State (1-3). The game kicks off at 7:32 p.m. in Sam Boyd Stadium and will air on CBS Sports Network.
Despite the quarterback change, UNLV is a 9-point favorite against the Bulldogs, who last week blew a 34-point lead and lost at home to Tulane in overtime. This is the first time since 2012 that the Rebels open the Mountain West slate at home, and they have a chance to begin league play 1-0 for the fourth time in the last five years.
An average day running the ball might be enough considering UNLV’s average is about 250 yards per game, and Fresno State’s defense gives up even more than that. The more the Rebels can accomplish on the ground, the less redshirt freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed has to do through the air in his debut.
Sneed can contribute in the running game, too, though I have a feeling that he’s not going to be great at avoiding hits. That could be a concern considering he’s not very big — listed at 6-foot and 195 pounds — and if something happens we could see the redshirt come off freshman Armani Rogers.
Coach Tony Sanchez wants to preserve Rogers’ redshirt, but the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder has been taking reps with the first team offense this week and if something happens to Sneed I expect to see Rogers out there in the mix with junior Kurt Palandech.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil is completing just 50.7 percent of his passes but he and the Bulldogs also like to run a lot of read-option looks, so UNLV’s front seven is going to be challenged to find the ball on each play.
On the back end of UNLV’s defense, the defensive backs have given up a lot of big plays over the last two weeks. The biggest concern is that on a lot of them — excluding those wide-open passes by Central Michigan — the Rebels are in good position and still getting beat.
I’m not sure what the remedy is, considering it’s been happening all season. Even against Jackson State there were a lot of times that UNLV’s cornerbacks were in the right spot and still got beat by the Tigers’ receivers.
Sophomore Evan Pantels drilled all three of his field-goal attempts on Saturday, including the kick in overtime that briefly gave UNLV its only lead of the game. Sanchez has said that Pantels doesn’t have much distance, but he was good from 23, 24 and 32 yards in his first three attempts as a Rebel.
And after two weeks’ absence, freshman receiver Darren Woods Jr. got time as a kick returner again, averaging 25.7 yards per return. Woods is a needed weapon in the return game because he has the longest return (43) and highest average of anyone with more than one return, and UNLV consistently losing the field-position battle is a part of their larger issues.
One of Sanchez’s former players will almost always be on the field when UNLV is on offense as a pair of former Gaels split time at inside linebacker. Junior Robert Stanley and sophomore Nela Otukolo rank seventh and ninth on the team in tackles with 17 and 13, respectively, and Otukolo has a sack.
Otukolo originally was the first Gorman player to commit to Sanchez at UNLV and he spent a couple weeks on campus before changing his mind and flipping to the Bulldogs.
“That’s alright, I still love him,” Sanchez said. “He’s a great kid. That’s part of the recruiting business.”
“What we really need to demonstrate is not just having that hatred but putting that into actions and going and playing better the next week and actually doing something. Anybody can pout and say they’re mad or frustrated, but the only way you can fix that is to practice well, do all you can during the week to watch the film, to do the little things and actually go out and make a difference, and not just say that you’re mad or say you hate losing.”
— Senior fullback Mark Philippi on the idea of hating to lose
Song and Beer Recommendation
Drink Spaten’s Oktoberfest and listen to Richie Cunning’s “Pure Imagination.” Spaten is based in Munich and this year-round beer is perfect for our current change in season, while Cunning is a rapper out of San Francisco — a city worth going out of the way for if you must also visit Fresno — and this song was recently pushed to me on Spotify’s discover playlist.
I haven’t even decided if I actually like the track, which samples Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination.” But what I definitely enjoy is that it could be read as a response to the 2006 Da BackWudz song “I Don’t Like the Look of It,” in which they claim they got the beat “straight from Willy Wonka and haters mad cause they can’t.”
Turns out the world is big enough for (at least) two Wonka-based rap songs.
Through four games, Lexington Thomas is having one of the best seasons for a running back in the country. His 6.9 yards per carry are the fifth-most in the country among players with at least 450 rushing yards, and his six rushing scores are tied for eighth most in the nation.
UNLV 30, Fresno State 20
(1-3 ATS, 2-2 SU, 2-2 O/U)
UNLV 31, Fresno State 21
(3-1 ATS, 3-1 SU, 1-3 O/U)
UNLV 24, Fresno State 20
(1-3 ATS, 3-1 SU, 2-2 O/U)
UNLV 26, Fresno State 24
(1-3 ATS, 3-1 SU, 1-3 O/U)