Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 | 12:04 a.m.
UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers took a shotgun snap and sprinted to his right. The San Jose State front seven had no chance at catching him, and the one defensive back that did paid the price.
Rogers bulldozed into the defender, knocking him back into the end zone for a touchdown on the opening drive of Saturday night’s game at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The freshman signal caller ran for another touchdown on the second drive of the game, then threw two more in UNLV’s 41-13 blowout win over San Jose State in the Rebels’ Mountain West opener.
It was clearly the best game in the redshirt freshman’s brief UNLV career, showing glimpses into what many believe is a bright future for the most celebrated recruit in program history.
“Each and every game you get different looks, then when you see those looks you know what to expect,” Rogers said. “From the first game to this game I’ve seen the looks and am able to put the pieces together.”
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Rogers is more physically talented than most that have stood behind center at UNLV. Once he catches up to the mental aspect of the game, the Rebels may have something special.
“To come out and go 7-for-7 in the first half and execute the offense the way that he did, and run the ball and extend plays was great,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “Every week he’s just becoming a better and better football player and that’s why we recruited him.”
Rogers completed 11-of-16 passes for 206 yards and a pair of scores including a 44-yard strike to Brandon Presley in the second quarter.
But it was Rogers’ legs that made UNLV’s offense so difficult to defend.
“Some of the situations come down to one-on-one matchups, making the tackle in the hole on a good back, or making a play on a receiver down the field, or tackling Armani (Rogers) out in space and obviously we didn’t do that,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said.
The threat of quarterback runs opened up even more holes for UNLV running backs, including Lexington Thomas. The junior back broke free for a 56-yard run in which he danced through the Spartans defense en route to a 146-yard, two-touchdown night.
“I’ve always believed that if you’re going to build a team that’s going to be able to last, win games and win championships it’s by defense and running the ball,” Sanchez said. “We have a heck of an offensive line, with only one senior on it.”
The Rebels ran for 345 yards and held San Jose State to only 147 yards on the ground. Defensively, UNLV wasn’t great overall (allowing 462 yards) but came up with stops when it mattered most. San Jose State scored only one touchdown in five trips inside the UNLV 20-yard-line. UNLV had two interceptions and forced a fumble on its own 1-yard line.
“We gave up some things that we definitely don’t want to, but when it got into the red zone we knew we needed to tighten up on some things and just make a play to keep some points off the board and I think we did that,” UNLV defensive back Chauncey Scissum said.
The win brings the Rebels record to 2-2 overall, 1-0 in Mountain West play. It’s the earliest they have reached the two-win mark since 2013, when they reached a bowl game.
“It means a lot,” Rogers said. “Going into conference everybody is 0-0 so for us to get our first victory in conference play is a statement.”