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UNLV quarterback Max Gilliam hoping to learn from tough debut

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV Rebels quarterback Max Gilliam (6) tosses the ball to referee Micheal VanderVelde during their NCAA football game Saturday, October 6, 2018, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

Football is a quarterback’s game, and right now, UNLV is searching for answers at the sport’s most important position.

In the last two games, the Rebels’ QBs have combined to complete 20-of-56 passes for 146 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Both games were losses, and another passing performance like that on Saturday at Utah State would surely doom UNLV to another humiliating defeat and throw the season into further turmoil.

So yeah, there’s a little pressure on Max Gilliam.

Gilliam was the quarterback for UNLV’s most recent loss, a 50-14 drubbing at the hands of New Mexico last week. Making his first career start in place of an injured Armani Rogers, Gilliam went 15-of-35 for 123 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, but even that meager stat line is deceiving — most of that production (six completions, 83 yards, both touchdowns) came in the fourth quarter, long after the game was decided.

Head coach Tony Sanchez said he’s sticking with Gilliam against Utah State, but there’s no reason to believe Gilliam’s job security extends beyond this week.

Gilliam knows he has to play better than he did against UNM. After Tuesday’s practice, the California native said he learned a lot from his first start, and he plans to apply that knowledge when he takes the field against Utah State.

“I’ve watched [the New Mexico film] a couple times,” Gilliam said. “I feel like I just have to get it to our playmakers better and let them make plays, instead of [me] trying to make plays. I feel like I’m going to make that happen.”

Gilliam said the rest of the team has taken a similar approach in trying to learn from — and then forget — the New Mexico debacle.

“I feel like we’ve responded pretty well. The main thing with that game is watch it, learn from it and put it behind us. Once we learn from it, that’s about all we can do with it. We’ve just got to put it behind us now and get better.”

Utah State presents a formidable challenge for a UNLV team that appears to be in a fragile state of mind right now. The Aggies are 4-1 and coming off a 45-20 dismantling of BYU, and sixth-year coach Matt Wells has his team averaging 50.2 points per game.

If UNLV starts as slowly as it did against UNM — the Rebels didn’t pick up a first down until their sixth drive of that game — Utah State will run away, and Gilliam’s status as starter will likely be reevaluated by the coaching staff.

Sanchez could hand the reins to freshman Kenyon Oblad, but the priority is preserving Oblad’s redshirts status. After the Utah State game, Oblad could play the next four games, maintain his redshirt, and then cede the job back to Rogers when he returns from injury.

Rogers’ timetable for recovery is not set in stone, however, and Sanchez has shown no indication of wanting to switch to Oblad beyond stating that he’s not afraid to play the true freshman if he proves to be the best option.

Of course, Gilliam can halt any talk of a quarterback controversy with a good showing on Saturday.

True to his nature, Gilliam kept a calm demeanor when discussing his preparedness for Utah State.

“I was pretty comfortable in my first start,” he said. “I feel like knew what to expect and it was what I thought it was going to be. So I think we’ll be ready for this one.”

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

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