Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018 | 2 a.m.
A year ago, Armani Rogers was doing everything for the first time. Now, heading into his second season as UNLV’s starting quarterback, the sophomore has been there, done that.
Ray Brewer, Mike Grimala and Case Keefer break down UNLV football heading into its first game of the season, at USC on Saturday.
When Rogers leads the Rebels onto the field at the Coliseum for Saturday’s opener against USC, it won’t be a new experience. He started last year’s opener as a freshman and eight more games after that, including two do-or-die contests at New Mexico and UNR to close the season.
Rogers’ clutch play resulted in a last-second victory at New Mexico, but an uneven performance in a loss at UNR (12-of-23 passing for 160 yards and zero touchdowns) doomed UNLV to a 5-7 record — one win shy of bowl eligibility.
The Rebels believe that Rogers’ season of experience — both good and bad — will help make up the difference between 5-7 and a bowl-worthy record.
Rogers himself said he feels a difference between his state of mind heading into Week 1 last year and how he feels now, as a relatively seasoned veteran.
“It’s a big difference,” Rogers said. “You know what to expect, you know the defenses, you know how to watch film. It’s just a different type of preparing from what I did last year to what I’m doing now. It’s being more mature and understanding the difference in speed from high school to college.”
Rogers came out of the gates strong as a freshman. In his college debut against Howard, he completed 11-of-19 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown while running nine times for 82 yards. He didn’t commit any turnovers, and he had the Rebels moving the ball for a potential game-tying (or game-winning) drive before receiver Drew Tejchman fumbled at the end of a long catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter.
Rogers, a 6-foot-5 Los Angeles native, enjoyed much success running the ball in 2017, finishing with 780 yards and eight touchdowns on 146 carries (5.3 yards per attempt). His passing was less consistent, as he broke the 200-yard threshold just two more times after the Howard game and logged six games with a completion percentage lower than 55 percent.
UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez said that the playbook was designed with Rogers’ strengths in mind last year and that the quarterback’s time in the system has allowed the coaches to expand the game plan heading into 2018.
“I think last year had more to do with the youthfulness of Armani and some different guys,” Sanchez said. “We’re so far past where we were a year ago as far as what we’re doing and our understanding of it. We’ve tinkered things. We’ve put a little twist on it, a little spin based on Armani being our quarterback. A lot of what we’re doing lends a little bit more to his abilities and the things he’s really good at. As far as the playbook, it’s in.”
One area where Rogers’ experience could come into play on Saturday is in his command of the huddle. In his first college start, the Rebels were sloppy at the line of scrimmage, especially in the red zone. UNLV committed four false-start penalties inside the Howard 20, with two of them stalling drives and forcing UNLV into field-goal attempts. UNLV eventually lost, 43-40.
With USC starting true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback, UNLV will actually have the more experienced field general on Saturday. While that won’t be enough to guarantee victory by itself, Rogers and the Rebels intend to squeeze every last advantage out of the situation.
Rogers believes leadership can make a difference.
“Mental toughness,” Rogers said when asked what he can do to lead his team. “I know sometimes we’re going to be put in tough situations and it’s my job not to put my head down and keep everybody up on the offense, and even on the defensive side of the ball, just keep everybody together. Even when times get rough, just bring everybody together and keep going.”