Every football team plays to win, of course, so what happened to Vegas on Saturday in Ohio Stadium wouldn’t have happened if UNLV had stayed in Vegas.
But remaining home wouldn’t have allowed the Rebels to accomplish their main goal in playing Ohio State. That $1.3 million check will take a lot of sting out of the physical and mental bruises the Buckeyes inflicted in an overwhelming first half of a 54-21 victory.
That UNLV had a few is not in dispute; that they all came after Ohio State had rolled to a 37-0 lead tempered the impact. The Rebels were their most efficient on an 83-yard, second-quarter scoring drive that spoiled the shutout Nick Bosa had predicted. Lexington Thomas earned the touchdown with a stretching 2-yard run. Thomas added a 55-yard scoring run in the third quarter when he encountered wide-open spaces up the middle.
What went right
The Rebels showed they went to school and learned from watching how Indiana and Oklahoma successfully targeted OSU’s inexperienced secondary. UNLV finished with a mere 88 yards passing, but they picked up another 55 yards by goading cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Denzel Ward into key pass-interference and holding penalties.
This game was out of reach by halftime at the absolute latest, yet UNLV coach Tony Sanchez allowed his best player, redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers, to remain on the field throughout the third quarter against a fresh group of Ohio State defenders. Rogers was sacked four times, and twice was on the receiving end of hard tackles late in the third quarter.
UNLV has a dynamic young quarterback in Rogers, a shifty running back in Thomas, a next-level receiver in Devonte Boyd … and a defense that must have Mountain West Conference opponents salivating. Ohio State (which you have heard has struggled to produce a consistent passing game) torched the Rebels 664 yards, including 474 through the air and seven touchdown passes.
Rogers suffered two interceptions, both on tipped balls, that directly led to short-field touchdowns for the Buckeyes. But he showed his potential on UNLV’s first scoring drive with a laser throw to Boyd on a third-down fade up the left sideline and later adding a 23-yard scramble to the OSU 2. The young man looks the part.
UNLV held the ball for 18 minutes, 37 seconds of the first half but had only 118 yards and seven points. In 11:23, Ohio State had 361 yards and 44 points.
“We won’t play a faster team, especially in all three phases. No team we play is going to run on all three phases the way these guys run. And nobody is going to have the depth these guys have.” — Sanchez, on the Buckeyes
UNLV entered the game ranked No. 4 nationally in rushing offense at 350.5 yards per game but managed about half that, 176. … The Rebels fell to 5-39 all-time against ranked teams, and 1-9 against top-10 teams.