With just two days left until the season opener, the football team is focused on containing UNLV’s dynamic offense, led by star redshirt sophomore Armani Rogers, last season’s Mountain West freshman of the year.
“One of the biggest keys for us is gonna be able to contain the quarterback,” head coach Clay Helton said. “When you watch tape on Armani, it’s evident that if you don’t stay in your lanes … he can hurt you dearly. His ability to move the chains is something special.”
Rogers threw for 1,471 yards and six touchdowns to five interceptions, but he especially shined on the move, rushing for 780 yards and eight scores. As a team, UNLV likes to play up-tempo and push the pace. The Runnin’ Rebels averaged 427.1 yards per game last season but also ceded 458.7 yards to their opponents, 239.1 of which were on the ground. The keys for USC will be to limit Rogers’ ability to get outside the pocket and create big plays with his feet, as well as testing UNLV’s run defense early to open up the field and help out freshman quarterback JT Daniels in his first start.
Helton is excited to get going.
“The beauty about ’SC is the expectations of being here in the first game and the expectations that this group has to take the new step,” Helton said. “These seniors, that have done so much in their last two years, to be able to walk back in that Coliseum is exciting. We’ve been hitting each other now for the last four weeks. We’re ready to go play somebody.”
Senior captain and outside linebacker Porter Gustin spoke to reporters following practice about his recovery from a torn meniscus and his status for Saturday’s matchup.
“I was pretty certain that it wasn’t super bad. I didn’t feel anything pop or tear … just couldn’t put pressure on it,” Gustin said. “I was lucky it was just a meniscus.”
Helton agreed with Gustin’s assessment.
“I think he looked good to really good,” Helton said. “I thought the big day was yesterday, to get some really physical work … The doctors felt great about it.”
Gustin is looking to bounce back from an injury-ridden season that saw him appear in only appear in four games. In limited time, Gustin showcased his versatility and pass rushing ability, most notably by delivering two sacks in the first half last year in USC’s triple overtime thriller against Texas before exiting the game. This time around, Gustin isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m just looking forward to competition, getting out there, playing with my guys, and enjoy football,” Gustin said. “Unless something really bad happens, I plan on playing. I’m feeling good and ready to go.”
Bubba balls out
Quarterback wasn’t the only position that saw some competition this past training camp. Defensive backs sophomore Bubba Bolden and senior Marvell Tell III went head-to-head in a tight battle for the starting safety job before Helton named Bolden the winner at the start of the week. The game is especially meaningful for Bolden, who will be starting against his former head coach at Bishop Gorman High, Tony Sanchez, who now coaches the Runnin’ Rebels.
“I was kind of surprised when it happened (Sanchez was hired in 2014),” Bolden said on Sanchez making the rare jump from high school to college head coach. “But I think he was the best coach in Vegas. He got that role, and I think he’s doing a pretty good job.”
Bolden, who didn’t play much outside of special teams last season, also spoke about his development since joining the program.
“I personally think it was a good thing for me,” Bolden said. “It was a good learning experience my freshman year. Just getting to learn the game and the speed of the game … I think I’m ready.”
Freshman running back Markese Stepp was cleared off of concussion protocol. He will not play, according to Helton.