Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Three days after being called out by his head coach for not running hard enough, senior running back Lexington Thomas took the blame for a lack of energy in Saturday’s 50-14 loss to New Mexico.
Thomas carried the ball just six times for 36 yards against UNM, both season lows. You’d have to go back to the final game of the 2015 season for the last time Thomas received fewer carries in a single game.
After the devastating loss, Tony Sanchez said he limited Thomas’ touches because he thought sophomore backup Charles Williams was running harder.
Thomas, a team captain, spoke to the media after Tuesday’s practice and said Sanchez was right to call him out specifically for his performance against UNM.
“Like he said, I’ve got to run harder,” Thomas said. “That’s all it is. I have to run harder. My energy was down. It was bad on me, because I’m more contagious to guys. I’m a senior captain, so I’ve got to keep my energy up and run harder like coach said.”
Going into Saturday, Thomas had been averaging 19.8 carries and 117.3 yards per game. The Rebels’ running game was stuffed early against New Mexico, and sophomore quarterback Max Gilliam struggled when asked to compensate via the passing game in his first career start.
Sanchez said Thomas handled the criticism well, and both seem ready to move on.
“I love Lex,” Sanchez said. “I’ve known him since he was 17 years old, and I’ve seen the guy evolve as a young man, as a football player. I’ve seen all the great things he’s accomplished. He’s one of the great players and runners we’ve ever had at this school. I was disappointed in the physicality of the team, and him being a team leader and what I saw out there frustrated me. And I told him that. And he was the first guy to own it."
Thomas said UNLV can’t afford to be so lethargic on the ground in this week's matchup against against Utah State, which has suddenly emerged as a Mountain West contender.
“It’s very important,” Thomas said. “That’s what we do well. I would say basically we’re a running team, so if we can’t run the ball it’s going to be a hard time.”
As a captain and a proven performer, Thomas sees it as his responsibility to spark the offense with big plays. He couldn’t explain his energy deficiency against New Mexico, but said he and the team have made that a focus in practice this week.
“Energy,” he said. “Last week we went out there with no energy, so we’ve been preaching to keep our energy up. We’ve had good energy since Sunday.”
The Rebels will have to score if they want to keep pace with Utah State, which is scoring 50.2 points per game (third in the nation). The Aggies are allowing 23.0 points and just 3.4 yards per carry, so it will take a strong showing from Thomas in order to make the game competitive.
Sanchez said he has faith that his senior leader will be up to the task.
“Lex is going to be just fine,” Sanchez said. “I told him today, without him, we don’t go anywhere. He is a great football player and we need him to play great. We need him to be the leader that he is. We need him to go out and play a great brand of physical football, and he’ll do it. I fully trust that he’ll get that done.”