Published Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 | 6:35 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 | 7:07 p.m.
It’s time for the UNLV football team to stick with Johnny Stanton as the starting quarterback.
Remember in 2013 when Caleb Herring came off the bench and resurrected the UNLV season, helping it reach a bowl game? Johnny Stanton through two games is having the same impact, and if he continues as the starter, could produce the same result.
Stanton was again steady under center in the Rebels 31-23 win today against Hawaii, passing for a pair of touchdowns, rushing for another and showing the poise of a leader.
He played linebacker and on special teams this season before getting a chance at quarterback last week at Fresno State because of an injury to redshirt freshman Armani Rogers. He’s outplayed Rogers in leading the Rebels to a pair of wins to save the season, completing 18-of-26 passes for 244 yards today in giving the Rebels’ offense the run-pass balance it lacked with Rogers.
Rogers, returning to action today for the first time since suffering a concussion two weeks ago, was inconsistent when inserted into the lineup. On one sequence late in the first half, Rogers took a sack instead of throwing the ball away to move the Rebels out of field goal range, and then threw into double coverage for an interception on the following play.
Rogers, a top recruit billed as the program’s future, clearly has all the physical skills. But he’s lacking confidence at this stage of his development and not making good decisions.
The senior Stanton has been reliable and resourceful with the ball, on everything from picking up first downs on third down plays to having no turnovers in two games. And he’s completing passes, which is something Rogers has struggled to do, even when not injured. Stanton’s pass over two defenders to Kendal Keys in the back of the endzone late in the third quarter was a thing of beauty.
Of course, the one downside in sticking with Stanton is that Rogers can’t develop on the bench, and his ego could potentially be bruised moving forward.
Here are some more observations:
What the game means: Two weeks ago, the Rebels surrendered 31 unanswered points to close the game against Utah State in blowing a double-digit lead. They also lost their quarterback to injury. Players hung their heads, likely realizing the chances of a winning season were slim. What a difference a few weeks, and wins, makes. They Rebels now have four victories — equaling the win total of last season — and a ton of newfound confidence. When other UNLV teams were simply playing out the schedule at this juncture of the season, the Rebels are starting to peak. They believe they can win. It’s refreshing to have meaningful games left on the schedule.
Rebels defense improving: The lack of a rush defense was mostly to blame for blowing convincing double-digit leads to Air Force and Utah State in back-to-back weeks, and that ugly season-opening loss to Howard. We were quick to assign blame and point fingers, suggesting defensive coordinator Kent Baer wasn’t up to the task of organizing the defense. While the defense still can’t be trusted, it’s been solid the past two weeks in season-saving wins. It limited Hawaii to 112 rushing yards today. Last week, Fresno had just 140 rushing yards. And over the past two weeks, UNLV has surrendered a combined 39 points. The defensive line, led by local product Michael Hughes Jr, is getting pressure on the quarterback. Sophomore defensive back Jericho Flowers, who had 10 tackles and three passes broken up, could be the Rebels’ best defender.
A look at the stat sheet: Lexington Thomas’ third-quarter touchdown was the 25th of his three-year career, which ranks third best in school history. Thomas finished with 98 yards and 24 carries. Rogers, who played only briefly in the first half, was 2-of-5 for 37 yards and an interception. He had a 16-yard rush, but only finished with three rushing yards after taking a sack. Brandon Presley led the UNLV receivers with four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, taking a short pass for a 52 yards touchdown in the third quarter. Kendal Keys also had four catches and a touchdown. Safety Dalton Baker had double-digit tackles for the third-straight week with 11 takedowns.
Up next: UNLV, needing two wins in its final three games to become bowl eligible, hosts BYU next Friday. All three games are against opponents with a losing record, meaning the Rebels control their own destiny to qualify for the postseason. Two-win BYU was averaging just 17.3 points per game to rank 124th nationally before its game tonight against Fresno State, and more important, UNLV appears to be playing its best football of the season. Of course, the Rebels have struggled in November in recent seasons, so nothing is a guarantee — even with New Mexico (3-5 overall) and one-win UNR after BYU to close the schedule.