Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 | 12:03 a.m.
The UNLV players did just about everything that could be asked of them on Saturday night. They played with emotion and they competed at a high level, and the members of the Las Vegas community that made the trip to Sam Boyd Stadium for the game had to be proud of their effort.
But on the field, that wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the talent gap that exists between UNLV and No. 19 San Diego State. Between the lines, the physically superior Aztecs dictated play from the opening kickoff and rolled to a convincing 41-10 win over UNLV.
SDSU senior running back Rashaad Penny did most of the damage, as he bulldozed the Rebels’ defense for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
One third-quarter play encapsulated the difference in physicality between the two teams, as Penny bounced a run to the outside, lowered his shoulder and blasted UNLV cornerback Tim Hough backward en route to a big gain.
“They were just tougher and more physical than we were tonight on both sides of the ball,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We had some tackling issues. You saw that resulted in some big plays Penny had. We’ve got to do a better job of tackling in space.”
San Diego State established its running game early, driving the length of the field on each of its first two drives. UNLV got a fortuitous bounce when Penny fumbled a toss on the goal line on the opening drive, allowing UNLV to recover and take over possession. And the Aztecs’ second drive stalled inside the 10, forcing the visitors to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
UNLV’s first big offensive play came on the ensuing drive, as Armani Rogers found an opening on a quarterback keeper and split the defense for a 45-yard gain. UNLV kicked a field goal to tie the game at 3-3 late in the first quarter.
San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman scrambled 14 yards for a touchdown on the Aztecs’ next drive, and after a UNLV three-and-out, SDSU struck quickly with a jet sweep handoff that Juwan Washington took 35 yards untouched to the end zone.
Rogers got UNLV back into the game, hooking up with Brandon Presley for a 45-yard pass into San Diego State territory, and the freshman quarterback then hit Kendal Keys in the back of the end zone to pull UNLV within 17-10 midway through the second quarter.
San Diego State tacked on a field goal just before the end of the half to take a 20-10 lead into the break, and that’s when UNLV seemed to reach the end of its energy reserve.
UNLV’s opening drive of the third quarter sputtered in San Diego State territory when Rogers took a big loss on a sack, and the Rebels were forced to punt. SDSU followed by driving 80 yards—with 25 of those yards coming when Penny leveled Hough—to extend the lead to 27-10 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Penny.
UNLV did not challenge again, done in by an inability to run the ball against San Diego State’s stronger defensive front.
The Rebels came into the game ranked eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (292.7) and ninth in yards per attempt (6.1), but they were unable to move the ball on the ground against SDSU. Star running back Lexington Thomas carried 14 times for 54 yards (3.9 per carry), and Rogers picked up 51 yards on 15 attempts.
“[I’m] really disappointed in the offensive effort,” Sanchez said. “[We] rushed for 106 yards. You’re not going to win a lot of football games the way we’re built running for 106 yards.”
With the running game unproductive, UNLV turned to Rogers early and often, but the young signal-caller was unable to move the chains with his arms. He completed just 12-of-27 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown, and UNLV was just 4-of-14 on third downs.
Though San Diego State out-gained UNLV 474 yards to 283 and dominated time of possession by almost seven minutes (33:13 to 26:47), Sanchez thought his team let a chance at victory slip away.
“San Diego State is a good football team, but we had plenty of opportunities,” Sanchez said. “We kept [finding] ourselves with opportunities throughout pretty much the third quarter to be within striking distance and we just fell flat.”
UNLV is now 2-3 on the season and 1-1 in Mountain West play. San Diego State improved to 6-0 and 2-0 in the conference.