After being upset in opener, UNLV football’s game at Idaho has extra significance

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez yells at a referee following another team penalty call during their home-opening football game against Howard on Saturday, September 2, 2017. L.E. Baskow

With a potential season-defining game at Idaho on Saturday, UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez is doing his best to put the Rebels’ demoralizing Week 1 loss to Howard behind them.

The UNLV defense surrendered more than 300 rushing yards in the 43-40 defeat last week, and the offense settled for field goal attempts too frequently instead of scoring touchdowns. But in his Tuesday press conference, Sanchez did the only thing he could in the face of such a staggering loss — stress that there are still 11 games left on the schedule, starting with Idaho.

“There’s no reason to panic,” Sanchez said. “We have a talented group of kids. We’ve got guys that can play this game and do it at a high level. I have full faith in them.”

UNLV received national media attention in the wake of the Howard game, but none of it was positive. As the Bison were 45-point underdogs, the game went into the record book as the biggest upset in college football history.

Sanchez stressed that his team is tightening its circle, blocking out the outside noise and focusing on Idaho.

“The thing that’s been phenomenal is the amount of support we’ve gotten,” Sanchez said. “The amount of emails and text messages from good people, people that have been supporting, people that are new to this program and helping out, and some of the older people who have been around for a long time.”

With a game at Ohio State looming on Sept. 23, UNLV faces pressure to win at Idaho or risk going 0-3 to start the season. The Rebels came into the year with high hopes of winning at least six games to secure a bowl berth, so such a stumbling start would rank as a big disappointment.

When asked for his thoughts on the voices who are calling for him to be fired, Sanchez was defiant.

“I think [that’s] absolutely absurd,” Sanchez said. [The media’s] job is to sensationalize things, and [they] do a good job of it. It’s not that big. It’s upsetting. Nobody is as upset as I am about [the Howard loss]. My name is on it. No one is upset about it more than our kids or our coaches. This is who we are.”

Rogers earns good grade

One of the bright spots for UNLV last week was the play of quarterback Armani Rogers. The much-hyped freshman lived up to the billing in his college debut, completing 11-of-19 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

Because Rogers looked comfortable in his first game action, Sanchez said the coaching staff is ready to open up the play book and give him full control of the offense at Idaho.

“I like the way Armani played,” Sanchez said. “That’s a pretty good game as a freshman starting off. He did a lot to help us win that game. Now this week we can kind of take the gloves off.”

After Wednesday’s practice at Rebel Park, Rogers was confident in his ability to handle the increased responsibility with the season possibly hanging in the balance.

“I’m ready for whatever [Sanchez] throws at me,” he said.

Thomas steps in

UNLV released its depth chart for Week 2, and the most glaring omission is sophomore running back Charles Williams. He is not listed among the available RBs after suffering a leg injury that knocked him out of the Howard game in the second half.

Junior runner Lexington Thomas will get the start against Idaho and handle most of the workload. He looked sharp against Howard, totaling 151 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Williams and Thomas were listed as co-No. 1’s coming into the season, and both rushed for more than seven yards per carry against Howard.

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

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