Sunday, July 29, 2018 | 2 a.m.
At this week’s Mountain West media summit, the league’s coaches and players seemed to be in agreement about one thing when it came to UNLV: It’s all about the offense.
The Sun asked a variety of conference opponents for their thoughts on UNLV heading into the season, and the respondents emphasized the offensive side of the ball. There wasn’t much said about the defense, which makes sense; While the offense is loaded with playmakers such as senior running back Lexington Thomas (a preseason All-Mountain West selection) and sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers (the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year), the defense is riddled with question marks.
A sampling of what opposing coaches and players had to say about the Rebels in 2018:
Rocky Long, San Diego State
“I think UNLV gets better every year. I think they have a very talented young quarterback who is going to get nothing but better, and any team that has a really good quarterback has a chance to win a lot of games. That’s just the way the game is now. I think that they’re getting better. They’re going to be hard to beat. Our league is one of the few leagues in the country that one year you can be the worst team and the next year you can win the conference championship … That doesn’t happen in other leagues, but that can happen in this league. So just because teams have struggled in the past doesn’t mean they’re not going to have a great year. In UNLV’s case, you can see the constant improvement. I think they were two or three plays away last year from going to a bowl game. Those two or three critical plays in a couple games they lost, that if they don’t make that mistake they go to a bowl game. That’s big-time improvement.”
Bryson Bridges, San Jose State defensive lineman
“Last year they came out a lot better than we expected. Really solid up front on the offensive line. Can’t sleep on them.”
Jeff Tedford, Fresno State coach
“I think they’re very dangerous. A lot of skill. I think the quarterback is a pretty special guy. Watching him get loose and run is pretty scary because he’s fast, he’s long, he can throw it well and then he’s got weapons all around him. The receiving corps is good, he’s got a couple running backs who are really good. They’re always good on the offensive front, so it’s going to be imperative we can slow them down a little bit to try to have a chance to win the game, because they’re in a position where they can score a lot of points.”
Ronley Lakalaka, San Diego State defensive lineman
“Against UNLV, you’ve got to stop the run. Lexington is their best player and of course you’ve got the quarterback, Armani. You want to keep him in the pocket, make him make plays through his arm rather than his legs. He kind of reminds me of Cam Newton. Lexington, from my experience, he’s very fast. Slasher. Home run hitter. One-cut run type of guy. Great leader as well. I hear him talking to his O-linemen and quarterback just making sure they’re on the right page. Watching Lexington kind of reminds me of Donnell Pumphrey, the way he hits the hole hard. He’s not going to back down from anyone, even if he’s smaller.”
Brent Brennan, San Jose State coach
“I think Armani is going to be a brilliant player. I knew him in high school, recruited him a little at Oregon State, and it’s exciting to me to see his process of development and what he’s become. I think they have tremendous offensive skill, but to me he’s the special one. His ability to throw it, but also make plays with his legs, and then there’s a toughness to him to. I’m sure Tony [Sanchez] is trying to get him to slide more, but he’s a tough kid, man. He wants to run people over and get that extra yard. As a coach you like that too.”
Jay Norvell, UNR coach
“We talk about the rivalry a lot, we put a lot of emphasis on the cannon. I think it’s important the players are educated about the history of our school and the history of the rivalry. We look forward to playing UNLV again this year. I think we played probably our most complete football game against UNLV, and I was proud of that because our season wasn’t going the way we wanted to, we didn’t have the record we wanted to, but we continued to play very hard and we responded when the game was on the line and it went down to the last play.”
Nick Rolovich, Hawaii coach
“I’m interested to watch the QB. I see the dilemma that Tony and the staff went through with Rogers and Johnny Stanton. Johnny Stanton played very well against us, but Armani Rogers is a kid who, if he keeps going like this, he can be a superstar. You always expect a good battle with UNLV. It just goes that way every time we play them, it seems.”