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Stand-in QB Max Gilliam confident Rebels can make bowl game

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Steve Marcus

Quarterback Max Gilliam carries the ball during the UNLV Rebels Spring Showcase at UNLV Saturday, April 14, 2018.

The Rebel Room

Two-sport casting

For the first time this year, the Rebel Room spends roughly equal time on UNLV's two major sports teams. Ray Brewer, Mike Grimala and Case Keefer first discuss the football team's Mountain West Conference opener against New Mexico before getting into the prospects of basketball season.

UNLV sophomore Max Gilliam exuded confidence on Tuesday, one day after it was announced that an injury to Armani Rogers will make Gilliam the Rebels’ starting quarterback for the next six weeks.

Gilliam, a Southern California native, was cool as an ocean breeze as he met with the media for the first time as the starter, insisting that UNLV’s bowl hopes are alive and well.

“Oh yeah,” Gilliam said when asked about the Rebels’ postseason chances, “we can definitely make a bowl game.”

In order for that to happen, UNLV (2-2) will have to win at least four of its next eight games; based on the timeline for Rogers’ recovery, Gilliam will be the No. 1 quarterback for the majority of those contests.

As the starter at Saddleback College last year, Gilliam connected on 69.7 percent of his passes for 1,185 yards. He threw 10 touchdown passes and was intercepted seven times.

Gilliam transferred to UNLV in the spring and was named Rogers’ backup in the offseason, but he continued to practice as though the top job was his to earn.

That mentality is one reason why Gilliam said he’s been able to take his new starting role in stride.

“It’s been good,” he said. “Hasn’t been much of a difference. I’ve been trying to prepare this whole offseason and camp and spring ball like I was going to be the starter, so when I got my opportunity there wasn’t really much that I had to change.”

Gilliam’s first test as a Division I starter will come on Saturday, when he leads the Rebels against New Mexico in the Mountain West opener. It’s a winnable game for UNLV, and Gilliam has had extra time to prep as the starter due to UNLV’s bye last week.

While not possessing Rogers’ uncanny speed and power in the running game, Gilliam is a capable rusher from the quarterback position. And while Rogers has the stronger arm, Gilliam’s superior sense of timing and ball placement will bring a different feel to the Rebels’ passing game.

Gilliam seemed assured that he will be ready to take the reins on Saturday. After joining UNLV for spring practice and going through a full training camp in offensive coordinator Barney Cotton’s system, Gilliam said he’d give himself an A-plus for his grasp of the playbook.

He said the game plan will be simple against New Mexico and in the games to follow, and that if the Rebels execute, the offense should run smoothly.

“I’ve just got to give it to our playmakers,” Gilliam said. “Take care of the ball, give it to our playmakers and we’ll do all right.”

A self-described “mellow guy,” Gilliam said he’ll approach Saturday with the same mentality that has gotten him this far.

“I’m definitely excited, but I don’t really feel too much different. I’m just trying to do what I’ve always been doing.”

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

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