Live blog: Rebels finish off Idaho, 44-16

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers hurdles Howard linebacker Devin Rollins during their game Saturday, September 2, 2017, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Howard defeated UNLV 43-40 to notch what is believed to be the biggest upset in college football history.

Updated Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 | 7:12 p.m.

UNLV used a second-half offensive explosion to put away Idaho, 44-16.

Lexington Thomas spearheaded the attack, rushing for a career-high 190 yards (including second-half touchdown runs of 60 and 62 yards), and Armani Rogers sealed the game with a 94-yard touchdown pass to Devonte Boyd.

UNLV out-gained Idaho, 550 yards to 384, and out-rushed the Vandals, 357 yards to 123.

The Rebels couldn't have picked a better time to find their stride on offense. After losing at home to Howard in Week 1, this game took on a must-win vibe. Now the Rebels have clawed back to a 1-1 record and preserved their bowl dreams.

Armani Rogers lets it rip, Rebels lead Idaho 41-16

It didn't take Armani Rogers very long to make UNLV history. He just fired a 94-yard touchdown pass to Devonte Boyd to put UNLV up, 41-16, and he also put himself into the school record book.

Rogers' hookup with Boyd is now the longest passing play in UNLV history. The freshman quarterback is 10-of-16 for 193 yards on the day.

With less than 13 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, it looks like the Rebels will hold on to win this crucial game and improve to 1-1 on the season.

Thomas running wild, Rebels lead Idaho 34-10

Lexington Thomas is putting UNLV on his back.

The 5-foot-9 junior running back just broke free for another long touchdown run — this one 62 yards — and UNLV's lead over Idaho now stands at 34-10 with 1:36 to play in the third quarter.

UNLV was faced with a 3rd-and-2 from its own 38-yard line, and Thomas took a handoff up the middle and used a burst of speed to split the safeties. It was his second long touchdown run of the quarter — he kicked off the second half with a 60-yard scoring scamper — and he's now up to 190 yards on 16 carries.

Rebels running over Idaho, lead 24-3

UNLV has dominated the opening minutes of the second half, and the Rebels have put themselves in position to win this game handily.

After Lexington Thomas' long touchdown run to start the half, UNLV safety Chauncey Scissum intercepted an Idaho pass on the ensuing possession and ran it back inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Thomas scored again to put UNLV ahead, 24-3.

Thomas now has 124 rushing hards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 carries.

Lexington Thomas breaks out, extends UNLV lead

UNLV has opened the second half with a bang, as junior running back Lexington Thomas streaked untouched for a 60-yard touchdown run on the opening drive to extend the Rebels' lead to 17-3.

Thomas now has 120 rushing hards on 12 carries (10.0 yards per attempt), and UNLV has out-gained Idaho 188-48 on the ground.

Visiting Rebels lead Idaho at halftime

UNLV continues to live on the razor's edge, but the Rebels have a 10-3 lead over Idaho at halftime.

After an Idaho field goal trimmed the Rebels' lead to 10-3 with 3:32 remaining in the first half, Armani Rogers tried to go deep on the first play of the ensuing drive. He was hurried and hit, however, and his batted pass was intercepted by Idaho at the UNLV 20.

It could have been a disastrous turn of events, but the Rebels' defense stepped up despite the short field, holding Idaho to another field goal attempt. That 37-yard kick sailed wide, and UNLV escaped the turnover with no harm done.

It's been a day of close calls for the UNLV defense, but so far they've acquitted themselves nicely. Sophomore safety Evan Austrie came up with the key pass break-up to end Idaho's most recent drive.

The Rebels had a chance to extend their lead toward the end of the first half, but Evan Pantels missed a 40-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining. UNLV will receive the ball to begin the second half.

UNLV holds 10-0 lead at Idaho

After an 8-play, 41-yard drive, Evan Pantels kicked a 40-yard field goal and UNLV now leads Idaho, 10-0 with 9:32 to play in the first half.

Armani Rogers converted a key 3rd-and-long on the drive, and he's now 5-of-8 for 63 yards.

The Rebels' defense has come close to allowing a couple of long gainers, but so far they have held Idaho to 38 total yards.

UNLV leads Idaho, 7-0

UNLV still has a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, though Idaho came very close to tying the game on its last drive.

On the Vandals' first play of the second quarter, quarterback Matt Linehan threw a perfect long strike to receiver Reuben Mwehla, who was streaking several steps behind UNLV cornerback Robert Jackson. The play should have gone for an 80-yard touchdown, but Mwehla let the ball bounce off his hands incomplete.

That's the second long touchdown the Rebels have avoided already.

Rebels jump out to early lead at Idaho

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

UNLV has been very fortunate in the opening minutes against Idaho, and Armani Rogers' 1-yard scoring plunge has given the Rebels a 7-0 lead.

On the opening drive of the game, Idaho went with a deep play-action pass on 3rd-and-short. An uncovered receiver was running free for a potential 71-yard touchdown, but quarterback Matt Linehan severely underthrew the pass. It fell incomplete, the Vandals punted and UNLV dodged a major bullet.

UNLV took possession around midfield, and the drive took a near-disastrous turn when Rogers fumbled on a QB keeper around midfield. UNLV recovered the fumble, however, then converted a 4th-and-1 inside the Idaho red zone. Three plays later, UNLV was on the 1-yard line when a fumbled snap jeopardized the scoring drive. Rogers calmly scooped the ball and plowed forward across the goal line, however, and the Rebels have an early lead thanks to some good fortune.

Three keys for UNLV football at Idaho

It’s only Week 2 of the college football season, but UNLV (0-1) is facing a potential make or break game at Idaho (4 p.m., ESPN3). Three keys as the Rebels look to bounce back:

Lex Express

UNLV’s offense is built on the ground game, and today that means Lexington Thomas. The junior running back figures to get the lion’s share of the carries with sophomore Charles Williams doubtful (ankle), and this is potentially a great matchup for the Rebels.

In last year’s meeting with Idaho (a 33-30 overtime loss for the Rebels), Thomas carried 19 times for 160 yards, and the team racked up 364 rushing yards overall on 49 carries (7.4 per attempt). If the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage in a similar manner today, Thomas will make big gains and put UNLV in a position to win.

Deep defense

The Rebels dominated Idaho in the trenches last season, but the Vandals stole the game late by heaving deep passes. Quarterback Matt Linehan targeted UNLV’s outside cornerbacks and repeated tested them down the field, even when the coverage was solid. The secondary wasn’t able to make plays, and Idaho connected on three passes of 30-plus yards in the second half alone.

UNLV spent much of the offseason fine-tuning the way it wants to defend the long ball, and today’s game is undoubtedly one of the dates the coaches had in mind when they spent all that time teaching deep defense. Sophomore Jericho Flowers, senior Robert Jackson and junior Tim Hough will likely all be tested by the savvy Linehan at some point.

The full Armani

Freshman quarterback Armani Rogers was good in his college debut, as he completed 11-of-19 passes (including two intentional incompletions on clock stoppages) for 220 yards and one touchdown, but it was just a small glimpse of his vast potential.

The game plan was designed to protect Rogers and minimize his inexperience, so there weren’t a lot of big-play opportunities. And when he had a chance to win the game with a last-minute drive, he completed his first pass only to see the receiver fumble the ball away after the catch. It never felt like Rogers was fully in charge.

That could change this week. Head coach Tony Sanchez said he plans to open up the playbook this week and give Rogers more chances to impact the game, either with his arm or with his legs.

Idaho held its Week 1 opponent, Sacramento State, to 95 passing yards. UNLV may have to triple that total in order to win this game, so Rogers — making his first start on the road —  could be the deciding factor between an 0-2 start or a season-saving win.

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

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