Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 | 2 a.m.
It would take a complete and total meltdown in order for UNLV to lose its 2017 season opener on Saturday. The Rebels will be five-touchdown favorites (at least) over Howard, so only an entire game full of fumbled snaps, interceptions, and physical and mental breakdowns could bring UNLV to the brink of such an epic catastrophe. It would have to be a full-scale collapse.
Don’t expect Armani Rogers to allow any of that to happen.
Rogers, UNLV’s freshman quarterback, is too cool to let things snowball out of hand in such fashion. Though he’ll be starting his first college game, Rogers has spent the past year — he redshirted in 2016 — preparing for this moment.
At a Tuesday press conference at UNLV’s football facility, Rogers said he is excited to experience his first NCAA action and acknowledged that his biggest responsibility on Saturday will be keeping his wits about him.
“I’ll be pretty amped up, but I have to keep it composed,” Rogers said. “I can’t go out there and be too fired up and start overthinking, and that’s when everything goes downhill. I need to go out there with a composed mindset and stay level-headed.”
Rogers shouldn’t have to do too much in order to achieve his first collegiate win. UNLV finished 16th in the nation in rushing yards last year (238 yards per game) and 14th in yards per attempt (5.5), and most of the offensive line and running back committee returns intact.
Head coach Tony Sanchez said he doesn’t want to get too conservative with the play-calling just because it’s Rogers’ first start, but look for the superstar quarterback to hand off early and often.
“You don’t want to show all your cards right now, but I think there’s no mystery that we’ve got a pretty solid rushing attack,” Sanchez said. “So I think [it will be good] for us to go out there and be physical off the bat, take a little pressure off him and make sure he has some manageable throws so he gets a level of comfort.”
If running backs Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas chew up yards against the overmatched Howard defense (they combined to run for 1,405 yards last year on 5.3 yards per carry), it will allow Rogers to ease into the game and add in some big plays when throwing the ball becomes advantageous.
The only potential hiccup would be first-game jitters for Rogers. But he’s confident that he’ll be able to keep his emotions in check, even if the game doesn’t go exactly according to plan.
“I like to stay level-headed,” Rogers said. “If I throw a touchdown, I’m going to be excited and celebrate with the team, but if there’s a fumble on the first snap, I can’t go out there and put my head down … So I just have to keep my head up, [even if] it’s a fumble, and say, ‘Alright, we’re going to get it back next drive.’ I can’t put my head down and go, ‘Aw, man,’ because then everybody is going to look at that and the negative energy is going to circulate.”
As long as Rogers avoids the absolute worst-case scenario, the Rebels will start the season 1-0. Sanchez sounds pretty confident that his signal-caller will be able to clear that bar by leaps and bounds.
“At some point in the game, we’ll let him loose,” Sanchez said. “We’re going to take some shots. We’re going to be explosive. We’re not going to be overly conservative. We feel comfortable enough with Armani that I believe he’s going to be able to handle a lot more than people think.”