Ahead of must-win game, Rebels quiet on quarterback decision

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV Rebels quarterback Armani Rogers (1) is pleased with a touchdown run over the Utah State Aggies defense during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.

If Tony Sanchez has made a decision on which quarterback will start for UNLV in Friday’s must-win game at New Mexico, he’s not telling.

During his mid-week press conference, Sanchez said that both quarterbacks have been practicing and that when the Rebels take the field in Albuquerque looking to keep their bowl hopes alive, it could be senior Johnny Stanton or freshman Armani Rogers under center — or a combination of both.

“Both guys are healthy and ready to go,” Sanchez said. “We’re getting both of them reps, so don’t be surprised to see either or. They’ll both most likely play in the game.”

It won’t be an easy decision. Stanton came out of nowhere to keep UNLV afloat with back-to-back wins against Fresno State and Hawaii while Rogers was out with a concussion, and the Rebels responded to Stanton’s consistent, rhythm passing. But UNLV scored just 21 points in a home loss to BYU on Friday, raising concerns that the offense just isn’t as explosive with Stanton at the controls.

Rogers brings more offensive upside. Although he’s completed just 52.5 percent of his passes on the season (compared to Stanton’s 62.5 percent), Rogers can create big plays with his legs, and the Rebels’ highest scoring games this season (44 points at Idaho, 41 points vs. San Jose State, 40 points vs. Howard) have come with Rogers at quarterback.

Sanchez said the quarterbacks’ contrasting styles of play will be a major factor in how he handles the New Mexico game.

“What’s our schematic game plan going into the game?” Sanchez said. “There’s going to be more quarterback run opportunities than there were last week. We knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of quarterback run opportunities against BYU. So, I think you’ll probably end up seeing both of them. We’re working through it throughout the week and developing a game plan we think will give us the best chance for success, but they’re both ready to go.”

Rogers started the first seven games of the season, but suffered a concussion against Utah State on Oct. 21. Stanton started and won the next game, at Fresno State, to revive UNLV's season. The following week, Stanton started and played most of the way against Hawaii (Rogers subbed in for two drives and finished 2-of-5 for 37 yards), leading the Rebels to another victory.

Stanton's luck finally ran out last week against BYU. Though he passed for a season-high 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns, he was also intercepted twice in a 31-21 loss.

With a record of 4-6, UNLV now has to win its final two games of the season in order to qualify for a bowl game. That makes tonight at New Mexico the most important game of the season so far, and Sanchez recognizes the magnitude of the situation.

With no margin for error, he said the Rebels will play whichever quarterback gives the team the best opportunity to win on any given play.

Just don’t expect him to share that information ahead of time.

“Whoever gives us the best chance, we’re going to go with,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got a plan. It’ll present itself on Friday night and then we’ll go from there.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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