Friday, Sept. 30, 2016 | 2 a.m.
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.
Will Kreitler knew about Dalton Sneed long before he prepared this week to snap the ball to him for Sneed’s first collegiate start. While Kreitler was playing his first two years at Scottsdale Community College, Sneed was down the road at Scottsdale’s Horizon High, where he graduated as the Arizona Division 5A career leader in passing yards (8,377) and passing touchdowns (87).
“He’s one of those guys that I think can come in and light up the show,” said Kreitler, UNLV’s senior starting center.
Sneed, a 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt freshman, will make his starting debut in UNLV’s all-black uniforms as the Rebels (1-3) look to snap a three-game losing streak 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.
Sneed is replacing junior quarterback Johnny Stanton, who’s out indefinitely with a knee injury. Stanton is expected to miss at least a few weeks, and in the meantime UNLV will find out if it can get more consistent quarterback play from Sneed or junior Kurt Palandech, who will come in for a series or two on Saturday.
Palandech has been working his way back from a shoulder and bicep injury that effectively handed the job to Stanton in the first place. Meanwhile, Sneed has used the extra practice reps this fall to get more comfortable with the system and its myriad audibles, something UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said he struggled with back on Aug. 20.
“There are checks on every single snap, so it’s him getting comfortable with doing those processes that will allow him to have a great opportunity,” Sanchez said after UNLV’s second scrimmage. “Johnny and Kurt are ahead of him in that category.”
Sneed was the best quarterback in practice that day and several since, but it’s still injuries that are most responsible for him taking the reins right now. That said, Kreitler believes that Sneed is ready for all the responsibilities of the job.
“He’s always been fearless. He’s not afraid to make calls. Sometimes he looks like Peyton Manning out there, always checking audibles,” said Kreitler, who also at one point compared Sneed to New England’s Tom Brady taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe.
Arizona-based excitement aside, there are several reasons to believe that Sneed could bring a semblance of balance to the offense. The biggest one is that the coaching staff’s top priority from the position this season has always been to manage the game without committing turnovers.
If Sneed can throw the ball over the middle of the field without getting picked off it’s a step in the right direction, because UNLV’s offense had to avoid that area for much of Saturday’s loss to Idaho after Stanton was intercepted twice. Ultimately, the Rebels’ passing game need only be effective enough to help a rushing attack that ranks No. 13 in the country with 250.2 yards per game.
“Being able to run the football is something we’re going to need to do,” Sanchez said.
Fresno State’s defense allows 260 rushing yards per game, which is good for seventh worst in the country, so there should be plenty of room to run. And the same UNLV offensive line that’s going to try to open those holes has allowed only two sacks all season, so Sneed shouldn’t have to run for his life.
Between the offensive line, running back Lexington Thomas and receiver Devonte Boyd, a lot of the pieces are in place to make this a relatively easy transition for Sneed, whose running ability is also similar to Stanton and Palandech. The Rebels just need him to make the easy plays and settle in to try to start Mountain West play 1-0.
“He’s a scrappy guy,” Sanchez said. “… He’ll play with his hair on fire, we’re just going to have to settle him down.”