Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 | 1:41 a.m.
Dalton Sneed scrambled for his life, and then the redshirt freshman quarterback’s gait changed twice during the Rebels’ longest play in program history.
The first time it happened was when, seven seconds after avoiding a safety, Sneed planted his right foot on UNLV’s 30-yard line, the step that squared his shoulders to burst through a hole created by blocks from tight end Andrew Price and receiver Allan Cui III. The second was 50 yards downfield, where Sneed was all alone on his way to the end zone and decelerated because he could or because he simply didn’t have much left in the tank, or both.
“I was running out of gas,” Sneed joked.
Officially it goes down as a 91-yard touchdown run, the longest play from scrimmage in Sam Boyd Stadium history as well as for a UNLV football program that began in 1968. Unofficially, it was somewhere closer to 120 yards as Sneed took the snap on third-and-11 with UNLV holding a precarious 11-point lead and danced around to avoid disaster before breaking free for the game-changing play in a 45-20 victory against Fresno State.
“Things weren’t going well, we weren’t moving the ball, we were kind of stagnant, and you know what? That’s what’s great about college football. You recruit these talented guys that have competitive souls, and that’s exactly what Dalton has. I’ll tell you what, he put us on his back on that play,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “… That’s just his heart and spirit stepping up and doing something special.”
Sneed passed all of the required tests in his first start after junior Johnny Stanton was ruled out at least a few weeks with a knee injury. His final passing numbers won’t impress many — 8-of-16 for 129 yards and a touchdown — but they’re notably absent of the turnovers that have crippled UNLV (2-3, 1-0) over the past two seasons.
Sneed also contributed 9.8 yards per carry to UNLV’s 364 total rushing yards, and he made the easy plays while only putting the ball in danger a couple of times. One play after the Rebels lost freshman receiver Darren Woods Jr. to a knee injury — “The first word is he’s probably done (for the season),” Sanchez said — Sneed perfectly executed offensive coordinator Barney Cotton’s design with a play fake to running back Charles Williams, a pump fake in the flat to Lexington Thomas and then an easy toss to freshman Elijah Trosclair for a 61-yard score.
“Coach Sanchez could have made that pass,” Sneed said. “It was a great call by Coach Cotton; (Trosclair) was wide open.”
If not for Sneed’s scamper the night would have belonged to Williams, a Fresno native who has been counting down the days to this game since committing to the Rebels last December. The Bulldogs (1-4, 0-1) were interested in Williams only as a receiver, a slight he took so personally that he has been texting Sanchez about this matchup on a weekly basis.
“I told him that since they didn’t look at me like that, I’m going to make them pay for that,” said Williams, who finished with 153 yards and a score on 18 carries. “I was texting him that every weekend since I committed.”
UNLV’s leading rusher this season, sophomore Lexington Thomas, averaged only 1.3 yards per carry, but it didn’t matter because Williams and Sneed were there for the bulk of the yards. Then senior David Greene topped it off with a couple of garbage-time scores, and all together four Rebels ran for touchdowns while outrushing the Bulldogs by 300 yards (364 to 64).
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.
No matter what Fresno State tried it couldn’t find any room on the ground, though there were again big gains to be had through the air against UNLV’s defense. Cornerback Tim Hough gave up a 38-yard pass plus committed a pass-interference penalty that negated an interception, cornerback Darius Mouton gave up a 52-yard gain and nearly the entire defense was complicit in an 80-yard score that gave the Bulldogs a little life until Greene eventually snuffed it out.
A stingy run defense would serve the Rebels well next week at No. 19 San Diego State, which will fall out of the rankings after losing at South Alabama earlier Saturday. They must also do whatever they can to make sure Sneed’s debut doesn’t quickly fade away like Stanton’s Jackson State performance did after six interceptions over the following three weeks.
That work begins soon and includes finding some warm bodies to play receiver. Add Woods' injury to pre-existing injuries to Kendal Keys and Brandon Presley and the Rebels are at a point where a guy like junior tight end Tim Holt might be moved to the outside.
But the quarterback can help solve some of those issues, and while the Rebels don’t know yet what they have in Sneed as a passer, they’re fully behind him as a leader. In the wake of a terrific debut as his play that would be No. 10 on Sportscenter was being tweeted everywhere, Sneed was thinking not of the three tacklers he evaded but the ones who were cleared out of the way for him.
“There are probably three, four, five different blocks on that play,” Sneed said. “That’s not me making that play; that’s me running the ball and getting great blocks from my teammates.”