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For Rebels’ receivers, blocking is name of the game

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Steve Marcus

UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers (1) celebrates his touchdown run in the end zone with Darren Woods Jr. (10) during a game against UTEP at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.

Under head coach Tony Sanchez, UNLV has consistently hit home runs in the running game.

Whether it’s been Lexington Thomas or Armani Rogers or now Charles Williams, the Rebels seem to spring their ball-carriers for long runs just about every game. The big factor is the runners themselves, as Thomas, Rogers and Williams can all press the turbo button when the need it. The offensive line plays a huge role too, as they’re responsible for clearing lanes at the line of scrimmage.

And under-appreciated aspect of the breakaways, however, is the blocking done by the receiving corps down the field.

The opposing secondary is the last line of defense, and a well-executed downfield block to take a cornerback or safety out of the play can mean the difference between a nice 20-yard gain and a game-changing 70-yard touchdown run.

In Saturday’s season-opening 53-26 win over Southern Utah, the Rebels ran for 331 yards as a team and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Those numbers were helped when Rogers broke free for a 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

After a couple days to analyze the game, Sanchez pointed to UNLV’s downfield blocking as one of the most impressive takeaways.

“When we went back and watched film, some of the blocking performances were amazing,” Sanchez said. “You look at Randal Grimes, he was dominant out there. He had flat-backs and pancakes, he was impressive. Darren Woods flying around on Armani’s long run; you see Darren sprinting 70 yards downfield just to chip the guy to get Armani in. The amount of effort the receivers played with was fantastic.”

The Rebels’ outside receivers are well-equipped to pave the way when the situation calls for it. Woods, a senior, is listed at 6-foot, 215 pounds, while Grimes, a sophomore, is 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds.

Rogers certainly feels confident when he’s one downfield block away from going the distance.

“Whenever you see green, open field and you see a key blocker out there, you’re just going to convoy behind them and you know they’re going to protect you,” Rogers said. “Once you have that confidence in the team, you’re just going to go up right behind them.”

UNLV also unveiled a handful of screen passes against Southern Utah, with many of the play calls requiring the receivers to move defenders out of the way at or near the line of scrimmage.

It was a new wrinkle for the Rebels, and it worked because players like Woods take their blocking responsibilities seriously.

“The coaches definitely put a lot on my plate as far as trusting me, getting me inside the box a lot and having to block linebackers, or swinging out and even getting D-ends and things like that,” Woods said. “It’s definitely a big part of the offense.”

That’s the attitude Sanchez likes to hear. UNLV completed just 18 passes against Southern Utah while running the ball 45 times, and Sanchez knows that it takes a certain type of mindset to keep blocking with intensity when you’re only being targeted a handful of times in the passing game.

The Rebels’ receivers have bought in.

“It’s not like we were throwing the ball 30 or 40 times,” Sanchez said. “Those guys would love to be part of that, right? But it was one of those nights where we got up, kind of running [the clock] out, so they had to do a lot of stock blocking. And they did it to perfection.”

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

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