It doesn’t matter who’s under center or out wide for UNLV, the Rebels are going to run the ball and get their points.
UNLV is two wins away from bowl eligibility under second-year head coach Tony Sanchez despite having started three different quarterbacks this season.
The team lost wide receiver Kendal Keys to a torn meniscus before the season started, then lost receivers Brandon Presley and Darren Woods Jr. to injury once the season began. The final straw should have been last week, when the Rebels lost all-conference wideout Devonte Boyd to a season-ending arm injury.
But a lack of healthy bodies didn’t stop the Rebels from winning a 69-66 shootout in triple-overtime over Wyoming last weekend. It didn’t stop Kurt Palandech, the third quarterback on UNLV’s roster when the season began, from throwing for 258 yards and three touchdowns with an additional 158 and a touchdown on the ground against the Cowboys en route to Mountain West player of the week honors.
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And it isn’t going to stop the Rebels from having the confidence to produce points against Boise State in what might be their biggest game of the season. That’s because they have faith in their ground game.
“It’s on national TV, and you don’t want to be embarrassed on national TV,” said freshman running back Charles Williams, who leads the team with 665 rushing yards. “We came here to get a win. No matter what, we’re coming out there to get a win.”
UNLV averages 34.4 points per game, up nearly a touchdown from the 2015 season. Despite several moving parts, the constant for the Rebels has been a solid running attack behind a stellar offensive line. UNLV averages 252.7 yards per game (No.14 in the nation) behind a fairly young group led by redshirt senior center Will Kreitler.
The line, which starts two underclassmen, has given up nine sacks this year; only six teams in the country have surrendered fewer.
“It’s the guys up front. They’re doing a great job,” Palandech said. “Whether it’s been rushing or pass blocking, they’re the key to success.”
Seven players have at least 140 yards rushing for UNLV this season. While Williams leads the pack, sophomore Lexington Thomas is right behind him with 632 and is tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns. Thomas missed last week with an ankle injury, though, and is questionable for Friday’s game against Boise State (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Because of injuries, different players have stepped up at different moments. Last weekend it was Palandech through the air and on the ground. Against Fresno State on Oct. 1, it was Williams’ 153 rushing yards leading the way.
It always seems to be someone new making plays when UNLV needs it most. That holds true in the red zone, where the Rebels have scored on 35-of-38 possessions (92.1 conversion rate 14th in FBS).
“They know how to game plan. They seem to have a plan for each opponent, and their guys make plays,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I think it’s a very tough football team. And offensively, they find ways to move the football. They do have some creative ways of doing it by using their quarterback.”
Quarterbacks play a major part in the run game, combining for 783 yards this season.
“We don’t have that one dominant back. That helps us out because, when you have that one back, when he gets to the red zone, he doesn’t have that extra kick,” Williams said. “We all have different styles that change the game. That’s the reason why we have a consistent running game.”
UNLV quarterbacks are completing just 47.2 percent of their passes and have a 15:9 touchdown:interception ration. Despite the lack of consistency throwing down the field, the Rebels are tied for fifth in the Mountain West in points per game, right behind Boise State.
Palandech can thank his offensive line and a multitude of counterparts in the backfield for that.
“We have speedsters (and) we have some bigger guys,” Palandech said. “Depending on the situation, we feel like we have a guy.”
UNLV Rebels at a glance
The Rebels earned the praise of Boise State fans last weekend, as their triple-overtime thriller over Wyoming opened a path for the Broncos to play in the Mountain West Championship game. UNLV has struggled through injuries on offense, having started three different quarterbacks and endured a plethora of injuries at wide receiver. Despite the lack of continuity, the Rebels average 34.4 points per game. While the passing game has struggled (47.2 completion percentage as a team, No. 125 in FBS), the Rebels boast the No. 14 ground attack in the nation at 252.7 rushing yards per game. Seven different players have rushed for at least 140 yards, led by Charles Williams’ 665 yards.
As solid as their offense has been, the defense has taken its lumps. UNLV surrenders 35.4 points per game (No. 112) and 261.6 yards per game through the air (No. 102). The rush defense has played fairly well, as their 165.4 yards per game allowed is tied for 66th in the nation, one spot ahead of Boise State.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LB TAU LOTULELEI
The 6-foot-1, 235 pound senior is tied for 14th in FBS with 14.5 tackles for loss. His 96 total tackles is good for No. 16 in the nation. He logged 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in UNLV’s 69-66 upset win over Wyoming last weekend.
“He plays hard. He’s physical. You can tell he has great instincts on tape. He just makes a lot of plays ... It’s hard not to notice him,” Boise State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Huff said.
UNLV at No. 22 Boise State
- When: 7 p.m. Friday
- Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
- TV: ESPN2 (Adam Amin, Kelly Stouffer, Molly McGrath)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 9-1, 5-1 Mountain West; UNLV 4-6, 3-3
- Series: Boise State leads 6-3 (won 55-27 in 2015 in Las Vegas)
- Vegas line: Boise State by 28 1/2
- Kickoff weather: Low-40s, light winds