Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 | 11:45 p.m.
Maybe it’s not all about the quarterback, after all.
UNLV, which saw its season revived as reserve quarterback Johnny Stanton led the team to back-to-back wins over the last two weeks, fell to BYU on Friday, 31-21, and it had little to do with quarterback play.
Stanton had a prolific passing day, completing 20-of-33 for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it barely made a dent in the final score. That’s because BYU dominated UNLV on the ground, especially in the second half, wearing down the Rebels to the tune of 213 rushing yards on 7.1 yards per carry.
BYU running back Squally Canada carried most of the load, racking up 213 yards and a touchdown while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt.
The loss knocked UNLV to 4-6 on the season, which means the Rebels will have to win their final two contests (at New Mexico, at UNR) in order to qualify for a bowl game.
After the game, UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez lamented his team’s inability to slow BYU’s rushing attack when it mattered most.
“We really struggled down the stretch stopping the run,” Sanchez said. “They had a rusher rush for over 200 yards. That can’t happen.”
UNLV trailed, 14-7, heading into halftime, and BYU made a statement on the opening drive of the second half, pushing the ball 68 yards in four plays before Canada found the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.
That extended BYU’s lead to 28-14, and while UNLV eventually trimmed that deficit to 28-21 early in the fourth quarter, the Rebels never had possession with a chance to tie or take the lead.
When UNLV needed a stop the most, BYU turned to its running game and Canada pounded out first downs on demand. For the game, BYU rushed for 265 yards and picked up 13 first downs on the ground.
“We’ve got to get stops, and we just didn’t do it,” Sanchez said. “They were more physical than we were. I thought they played a little harder than we did.”
Stanton played another strong game, connecting on several deep passes to keep the Rebels alive in the fourth quarter. He hit Drew Tejchman with a 50-yard bomb on a 3rd-and-7 from inside the 10, and four plays later on 4th-and-11 Stanton hit Brandon Presley down the sideline for 27 yards. On the next snap, he connected with Devonte Boyd for a 13-yard touchdown to pull UNLV within 28-21 with 10:46 to play.
Stanton was red hot at that point, and had the UNLV defense been able to get the ball back in his hands with a chance to tie or take the lead, he may have been able to deliver a win for the third straight week. But he never got the opportunity, as Canada rushed for 28 yards on the next drive to put BYU in position to kick a short field goal. That extended the Cougars’ lead to 31-21 with 5:39 to play and pretty much put a bow on things.
Presley finished with a team-high 88 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches, while Darren Woods posted 86 yards on seven catches. Lexington Thomas finished as the Rebels’ leading rusher with 83 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
A win over BYU would have put UNLV in the enviable position of only needing to win one of its final two games to become bowl eligible, but now the Rebels must win out, on the road.
Sanchez said the locker room was somber after the loss, but that the Rebels will be ready to fight for their bowl lives for the next two weeks.
“Our guys are hurting in there,” he said. “And the thing about it is, the game mattered. We’re late in the year and the game mattered, and that’s a big, big deal to us. Believe me, it stings. We’re going to come back with great intent tomorrow and get ready to go play New Mexico. We’ve still got a lot to play for right in front of us.”