Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
UNLV will head into Saturday’s game at Ohio State as a 40-point underdog (give or take a touchdown, but the Rebels should be the last team in the country to get discouraged by a lopsided point spread).
They know all too well that gambling odds mean little once the teams actually take the field and start hitting each other for 60 minutes — the Rebels learned the hard way when they lost their season opener despite being favored by 45 points over upstart Howard. Big favorites don’t always win.
Can UNLV flip the script on Saturday and land the biggest victory in program history by beating mighty Ohio State in its own stadium? It’s unlikely, but then again, so was Howard.
Here at the Sun, we like to take an optimistic point of view even in the face of huge odds (and even to the point of distorting reality). So, in good fun, here’s our five-point plan for how UNLV can make the impossible somewhat possible.
Head coach Tony Sanchez said UNLV will have to be diverse on offense in order to be effective against Ohio State’s fearsome front. And if the Buckeyes have one exploitable weakness, it’s their pass defense, as their inexperience in the secondary has led to a lot of big plays for opposing offense (OSU ranks just 76th in the nation in pass yards per play allowed at 7.4). So why not have quarterback Armani Rogers throw a few more 94-yard touchdown passes?
The freshman gunslinger set the school record with his 94-yard strike to Devonte Boyd against Idaho two weeks ago, so why not go back to the well? If Rogers throws an early 94-yarder, it could go a long way toward quieting the Horseshoe and taking the crowd out of the game. And if the score is tight late in the contest, Rogers can fling another 94-yarder (or even a 95-yarder) to put it to bed.
Ohio State fans love to complain about the guy who holds their school record for most career touchdowns (with more than 100), which would seem like a first-world problem. But they’re not entirely wrong to do it. Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett is not immune to bad games — he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in two of the Buckeyes’ final three games last year, and he threw two interceptions in the national semifinal loss to Clemson.
If “Bad J.T.” shows up on Saturday and gift-wraps a couple turnovers to get the Rebels going, he could add some serious fuel to the underdogs’ fire.
Charles Williams fakeout
Yes, UNLV’s school record holder for freshman rushing yards injured his ankle in Week 1 and is out for the season, but … what if he’s not? What if — WHAT IF — Sanchez put Williams on ice for the Idaho game in order to trick Ohio State into thinking he was finished. Now the Buckeyes don’t have the speedy sophomore on their scouting report.
Picture this: Late fourth quarter, close game, Rebels take over possession. Charles Williams gets up from the bench, does a few jumping jacks, then sprints onto the field to join the UNLV huddle. The OSU defense doesn’t know what to do, Williams runs wild and the Rebels ride the supposedly injured superstar to victory. Sound farfetched? Well the very same plan worked to perfection in a 1991 episode of the TV show “Coach,” so think again.
Few coaches know former Bishop Gorman quarterback Tate Martell better than Tony Sanchez, and that could come in super handy if the freshman gets into the game. And sure, Martell is listed as the co-No. 3 QB on the depth chart, but if Bad J.T. shows up and Urban Meyer has to yank him, Martell would conceivably be a heartbeat away from getting onto the field. Then it’s advantage, Rebels.
During Ohio State’s media availability on Wednesday, sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa got a little full of himself and predicted that the Buckeyes would shut out UNLV. For Bosa to say that, just one week after the OSU defense was dissected in a big-game loss to Oklahoma, has to stick in the Rebels’ craw.
You can bet that quote highlighted on every bulletin board in the UNLV locker rooms (and on the team flight, and in the team hotel, and on the bus to the stadium, etc.). The Rebels showed heart in bouncing back to beat Idaho; disrespect this team at your own risk.