Mike Strasinger / Associated Press
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 | 4:36 p.m.
Tony Sanchez believes in the running game. It’s the core tenet of his offensive philosophy, and it had to burn the UNLV coach as he watched his Rebels drop back to pass 60 times in last week’s loss to Boise State—with a freshman making his first career start at quarterback, no less.
The Rebels racked up a season-high 53 rushing attempts and accumulated 206 yards against one of the nation’s lowest-ranked run defenses, with junior running back Chad Magyar doing most of the damage (22 carries, 116 yards, one touchdown).
The Rebels are now 2-4 overall (0-2 Mountain West), and the program’s second-ever win over an SEC opponent has rejuvenated the team’s bowl hopes at the halfway point of the season.
Sanchez said the return to the running game was the natural solution for UNLV’s ailing offense, which had averaged just 15.5 points over the previous four games.
“Offensively, we got back to our roots,” Sanchez said. “I thought we got away from who we are and how we built this program, which is getting downhill, running our gap schemes and running the football at people. You haven’t seen a lot of that early in the year. You saw the commitment to it, being who we are, committing to getting downhill and it showed up today.”
With Magyar and junior running back Charles Williams (24 carries, 69 yards, one touchdown) grinding out yardage consistently, UNLV was able to pick its spots in the passing game. That seemed to suit freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad perfectly, as he hit on 11-of-16 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the most efficient performance the Rebels have gotten from the quarterback position all season. Oblad converted several third downs with his accurate passing (including a touchdown pass to tight end Noah Bean on 3rd-and-goal), and when big-play opportunities arose, he made them count.
The biggest play came early in the second quarter. After handing off on 11 of the Rebels’ first 12 plays, Oblad rolled left on 2nd-and-1 and fired deep down the right hash mark for Randal Grimes. The sophomore wide receiver raced past his defender, hauled in a beautiful rainbow pass from Oblad and strolled into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown.
Oblad credited the running game for putting him in good situations to throw.
“I can’t explain how great the O-line and running backs played,” Oblad said. “Every single time we ran the ball we got three, four or five-plus yards, and when that’s happening it makes my job easier, it makes the play-calling easier. Everything’s just rolling.”
Vanderbilt kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession to pull within 17-10, but those were the last points the UNLV defense would allow on the day. The Rebels’ next drive covered 79 yards on 11 plays (seven runs) before Oblad hit Bean on a roll-out to the right for a 5-yard TD to make it 24-10.
That was the score at halftime, and the Rebels stuck to a similar game plan in the second half, eventually grinding down Vanderbilt on both sides of the ball.
Though they allowed Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn to rush for 140 yards (powered by two long runs of 43 and 34 yards), the UNLV defense played its most complete game of the 2019 season. In addition to holding Vandy to 6-of-15 on third down, they also forced three turnovers and stopped the Commodores on all four of their fourth-down attempts.
Linebacker Javin White terrorized Vanderbilt with an interception, a forced fumble and 2.5 tackles for loss.
The senior captain said the Rebels are capable of performing at that level consistently.
“It shows we can actually come and play,” White said. “As a defense, we gave up 10 points and we shouldn’t have given up those 10 points. But that’s a great game, 10 points to an SEC team.”
The win doesn’t immediately put UNLV back in the bowl hunt, but with a trip to Fresno State looming on Friday, the season is far from over.
Sanchez said the Rebels are hoping to carry the momentum forward, but he doesn’t want his players to consider this to be a season-saving victory.
“Those hopes never died,” Sanchez said. “You see that by the way the guys played.”