Friday, Sept. 2, 2016 | 12:20 a.m.
The first pass of Johnny Stanton’s UNLV career was a touchdown. So was the third, and the eighth one, too.
It was that kind of night for the Rebels, who scored two touchdowns in the first two minutes en route to a 63-13 bludgeoning of Jackson State in front of 18,575 at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV is 1-0 for the first time since 2009, which is also the last time the Rebels opened against a Division I-AA opponent.
“Good night,” said second-year coach Tony Sanchez. “There are things that we’ve got to grow and get better at but we’re 1-0, and I guess we haven’t done that in awhile.”
Entering the game, all eyes were on Stanton, the junior quarterback who started his career at Nebraska and came to UNLV after a successful JUCO season in California. Nearly every position group appeared markedly improved from last season, but that was anything but certain at the single-most important spot on the field.
While the level of competition certainly has to be taken into account — UNLV was a 40-point betting favorite — Stanton finished 10-of-12 passing for 217 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to junior receiver Devonte Boyd, plus 35 yards on four carries.
“This has been way too long of a journey for me to not go out there and have fun,” Stanton said after his first career Division I start.
On his first throw, Stanton hit Boyd right as the Basic High grad was looking for the ball on a crossing route. On their second connection, Stanton ran right for a run-pass option and at the line of scrimmage tossed the ball a few yards to Boyd, who cut from the right sideline to the middle of the field.
On both throws, Stanton complemented his receiver for turning short or intermediate throws into big plays.
“I was happy with a 30-yard completion and then he just ran away from everybody,” Stanton said. Then, “Obviously, Devonte did most of the work on that second one.”
Sanchez complemented Stanton’s poise and control at the line of scrimmage, where he called multiple audibles that put UNLV in a better position. One of those came in the second quarter, when Stanton read blitz and hit Boyd in one-on-one coverage for a 30-yard touchdown.
“I was pretty sure he was going to throw that ball to me,” said Boyd, who finished with three scores and 135 yards on only four catches.
That’s a situation they worked on a lot during hot summers on the even hotter practice turf. That practice paid off, because the Stanton-to-Boyd connection was so successful that Boyd didn’t play in the second half.
“It looked really fluid,” Sanchez said.
The Rebels scored touchdowns on their first six drives and punted only twice all night. The running game had wide open holes the entire night, from Lexington Thomas’ two rushing scores in the first quarter to freshman Charles Williams making his debut with 96 yards and a score on 12 carries.
The defense got in on the action, too, scoring two third quarter touchdowns in just more than a minute and a half. First, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Nick Dehdashtian scooped up a fumble and rumbled 28 yards into the end zone, then a few plays later senior cornerback Torry McTyer read Jackson State’s quarterback perfectly for a 43-yard pick-six.
“I kind of visualized everything in my head already, so once I rerouted two and got under one, the ball was there, caught it and just made a play,” McTyer said. “It’s something that we practice over and over, and it was just up to me to make the play.”
The negatives: two fumbles, one from Williams that was recovered and one from Stanton inside the 5-yard line. A plethora of missed tackles led to the little success that Jackson State’s offense managed, as did a few penalties. That’s…about it.
Most of the small errors weren’t anything that stands out as really concerning in the first game of the season. The competition level jumps significantly next week at No. 16 UCLA, but that’s something the Rebels will start worrying about on Saturday.
“I’ve been waiting to be 1-0 for a long time,” Boyd said. “It feels good right now.”
Junior Kurt Palandech was in a battle for the starting quarterback job until last weekend and he was expected to make an appearance, but a shoulder injury kept him out.
Sanchez said Monday that Palandech had missed a couple of days of practice because of shoulder soreness, and with the game out of hand Sanchez decided to go with redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed in the fourth quarter. As of now, Palandech is still expected to be the backup at UCLA.