UNLV entered the season with one of the few stable quarterback situations in the Mountain West, but injuries have thrown that for a loop.
Senior quarterback Blake Decker, the league’s top returning passer from last season, has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury he suffered Oct. 3 against Nevada. He also left in the first half Sept. 12 against UCLA with a hamstring injury.
Coming off a bye week, Decker is ready to go for UNLV’s home game Saturday against Boise State.
“It’s big, obviously. He’s really comfortable back there, does a really good job of getting us in and out of the huddle a lot faster,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “... Hopefully that’ll get our offense kicked into gear an entire game.”
Decker leads the team with 652 yards on 45-of-83 passing with five touchdowns to four interceptions. He threw for 2,886 yards as a junior, third-most in a single season in school history.
Though the Rebels were competitive in the two games sophomore Kurt Palandech started (an overtime loss to San Jose State and a three-point loss to Fresno State), Decker is the starter, and the more accomplished passer. UNLV has been a solid rushing team, averaging 213.6 yards per game on the ground, but the added dimension of the pass is what Sanchez hopes makes it better.
“We have to add the passing game to go with it,” Sanchez said. “I definitely think Blake gives us the best chance to be succesful throwing the ball down the field.”
Saturday will be Decker’s first shot at the Broncos after a long, twisting road to get to this point. A 2009 high school graduate, he spent that fall at Phoenix College, left for a church mission, joined BYU in the spring of 2013, played that fall at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College and joined the Rebels last January.
“It’s going to be exciting to strap it back up Saturday,” Decker said.
Palandech has filled in admirably in Decker’s absence, completing 47-of-92 for 447 yards with six TDs and three INTs this season. He’s rushed for 216 yards, third on the team. Palandech was the first quarterback Boise State senior safety Darian Thompson brought up when asked about the Rebels.
“They have playmakers, particularly their quarterback. I feel like he’s a dual-threat guy,” Thompson said. “We know they’ll both play at some point.”
Whether it’s Decker getting a majority of the snaps or Palandech providing a change of pace, it will test the Broncos’ banged-up secondary. Only Thompson and junior cornerback Jonathan Moxey are healthy starters, with senior cornerback Donte Deayon (knee) and sophomore safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner (ankle) out for Saturday.
Decker has a pair of talented targets at receiver in sophomores Devonte Boyd (21 catches for 374 yards) and former Boise State signee Kendal Keys (20 for 226). He is eager for the shot to not only get back on the field, but face the Mountain West’s best.
“It’s a team everybody’s gunning for week in and week out, and we’ve seen giants can fall once in a while,’’ Decker said. “We’re hoping that’s this week for us.’’
Boise State at UNLV
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium (35,500, Sprinturf), Las Vegas
TV: ESPNU (Clay Matvick, John Congemi)
Radio: KBOI (670 AM), KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
Records: Boise State is 6-2, 3-1 Mountain West; UNLV is 2-5, 1-2.
Series: Boise State leads 5-3 (Broncos won 32-7 in 2012 in Boise).
Vegas line: Boise State by 19 1/2