Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Gilliam, a junior college transfer, struggled through his first career start in Saturday's 50-14 loss to New Mexico. He completed 15-of-35 passes for 123 yards, with two touchdown passes coming long after the game was decided. A Gilliam interception set up New Mexico’s first touchdown by giving the Lobos a short field in a game that was scoreless at the time.
Despite the shaky debut, Sanchez said the coaching staff and the rest of the team still believes in Gilliam.
“It was a pretty rough start for Max,” Sanchez said during his regular Monday press conference. “As we went on and he settled down, he played better and better and better. You like to see that. You hate the score of the game, but it was nice to see him make some nice completions toward the end of the game, throw a couple touchdown passes, put the ball on the money. He kept competing, that’s the biggest thing. Max is a good football player. We believe in Max."
Sanchez did not give an update on Armani Rogers’ recovery, saying only that the swelling in the sophomore’s foot has gone down. Sanchez said Rogers will be reevaluated next week, at which point the team will know more about the timeline for his return.
In the meantime, the Rebels’ offense will continue to be piloted by Gilliam. Stepping into a system tailored around Rogers’ unique skill set is not easy, and Sanchez said that both Giliam and the coaching staff now have a better feel for Gilliam’s strengths and weaknesses within the offense.
“This guy was trying to make his first start replacing No. 1,” Sanchez said, “and let me tell you, it’s hard to replace Armani. Armani is a heck of a football player. We’ve got to find our identity without him. We didn’t do that. This is a huge week for us offensively to go ahead and create an identity without Armani, because we’re not going to have him for a while. So Max has to be the guy and we have to do a great job of rallying around him and playing good football.”
Part of discovering that new identity will be figuring out how the UNLV skill players fit around Gilliam. Sanchez thought the Rebels’ lacked effort and physicality against New Mexico, and he said film review revealed eight dropped passes by the receiving corps. He was also not happy with the running game, as UNLV managed just 43 yards on 27 attempts.
UNLV will need its offense operating at 100 percent capacity in order to keep up with Utah State. The Aggies are averaging 50.2 points per game, which ranks third in all of Division I, and dual-threat quarterback Jordan Love is playing like an All-Mountain West selection. Another slow start by Gilliam would probably doom UNLV to a blowout loss in Logan.
The No. 2 quarterback behind Gilliam is true freshman Kenyon Oblad, who still appears raw as a passer despite owning most of the Nevada prep record book.
Sanchez said he is willing to play Oblad, but that he’d like to give the Liberty product more time to get comfortable before putting him into live game situations.
“He’s got to have the preparedness in order to do that,” Sanchez said. “He’s got a live arm. He’s still learning to be a college football player. He’s still learning how to read defenses. He’s still learning some of the little fundamental things. Is he a great player? Yeah, he’s going to be a great player. He’s got a live arm, he does some really good things. But he is a true freshman and he is young.”
The coaching staff would undoubtedly also prefer his to maintain Oblad’s redshirt status. Due to new rules implemented by the NCAA this season, freshmen can appear in up to four games and still keep their redshirt.