So, who were the imposters that borrowed UNLV’s uniforms last week?
After losing to 45-point underdog Howard, the real Rebels paid that misery forward against Idaho, lighting up the Vandals 44-16 in the Kibbie Dome Saturday and ending Idaho’s winning streak at six games.
UNLV looked good doing it, too, especially in the second half. The Rebels struck for a pair of quick touchdowns and a field goal in the third quarter to turn a 10-3 halftime advantage into a 27-3 lead.
Idaho could do no more than trade touchdowns with the Rebels through the third and early fourth quarters to bring the score to 34-16, and UNLV put the game away when Armani Rogers hit Devonte Boyd, who was streaking away from Idaho safety Jason Grabski, with a long pass that turned into a 94-yard touchdown.
With about seven minutes to play, UNLV ran down the clock, handing the ball to Xzaviar Campbell eight straight times to cap a 65-yard drive than ended with Evan Pantels’ superfluous 27-yard field goal. The Vandals were unable to score in the final two minutes.
UNLV torched Idaho with 357 yards rushing. Lexington Thomas contributed 190 of those on 17 carries, along with three touchdowns. Rogers ran for 97 yards and a score and Campbell 81 yards. Rogers also completed 10 of 16 passes for 193 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“They really just ran the ball down our throats,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “On defense we weren’t tough enough today.”
On offense, the Vandals had three chances to score touchdowns but missed them all with poor execution, according to Petrino. “I didn’t do a good enough job of getting this team ready to play. That’s a bad day,” he said.
On defense, there was very little Idaho could take away from UNLV, especially on the ground. The Rebels looked enormously quick in attacking small holes behind guards and tackles then racing past linebackers and safeties, and in beating Vandals defenders to the corners. Some of that had less to do with UNLV speed than Idaho miscues, Petrino said.
“That was discouraging, like three years ago stuff,” when the Vandals were winning one game a season, he said of the defensive mistakes.
Eight Vandals players are from Florida and two from Georgia. Concern among them for their families as Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the southeastern coast might have led to some loss of focus against UNLV, Petrino acknowledged, “but that’s not an excuse for how we played,” he quickly added. He said Idaho coaches have been in contact with those players’ families throughout the week. “It’s a sad thing, and our prayers go out to the families.”
Matt Linehan completed 22 of 34 passes for 261 yards with an interception and a touchdown for Idaho. He also ran for a score. His touchdown pass represented the Vandals’ final points. On third and goal at the four-yard-line, Linehan started to run then stopped and let fly what looked like a basketball jump shot to Reuben Mwehla who plucked the short throw just off the turf and rolled into the end zone. The play was reviewed and the score counted. Cade Coffey, however, missed the extra point.
The redshirt freshman was also wide right on a 37-yard field goal with about two minutes to play in the first half. The drive was one of the missed opportunities Petrino referred to, and it was emblematic of Idaho’s inability to change the course of the game. Trailing 10-3, the Vandals had a great opportunity to tie when linebacker Ed Hall intercepted Rogers at the UNLV 22. But a run by Isaiah Saunders lost a yard, and Linehan threw a pair of incomplete passes. Idaho had to settle for the field goal attempt that failed.
Jacob Sannon led Idaho receivers with 11 catches for 109 yards. But he was frustrated with the outcome.
“I thought we were prepared for them,” he said. “But at the end of the day they made more plays than us.” UNLV played “basic coverages,” he said. “We just didn’t execute today.”
He also pointed out Idaho opened last season with a pair of losses before tightening up to post a 9-4 record. The losses “did not define our season.”
Linebacker Kaden Elliss echoed Sannon’s frustration. From his side of the ball “I know they played tougher than I did today,” he said in measured remarks after the game. “They’ve got some guys that can fly. But we can run with those guys.” He also said “I’m sure I missed five tackles today.”
Idaho will attempt to turn the corner on this loss and prepare for its first away game, against Western Michigan Sept. 16.
“We’ve got to go back to work. It all starts with me,” said Petrino. Job one in practice next week will be shoring up the Vandals’ willingness to play tough against tough opponents, he said. “We have to. The team we’re playing is better than the one we just played.”