LOGAN, Utah -- No one will rank Thursday's victory among those over Wisconsin in 2003, Baylor in 1999 or Brigham Young in 1981, but this UNLV football team did something that so many in recent years failed to do.
The Rebels did not collapse after a first half in which falling forward was considered a good play, and they did not edge toward the locker room during some late adversity.
UNLV's coaches made the proper halftime adjustments in opening up the playbook, and the players responded by making every big play when they needed one.
No play was bigger than tailback Frank Summers' 11-yard rumble to the end zone with 1:02 left to give the Rebels a 23-16 opening victory over Utah State at Romney Stadium.
"Our deal in this game was to find a way to win no matter what it takes, and we did," UNLV third-year coach Mike Sanford said. "It wasn't beautiful, it wasn't perfect, but it was a win."
UNLV snapped a 15-game road losing streak and gave Sanford his first road victory and first back-to-back wins. The Rebels beat Air Force 42-39 in last season's finale.
But more important, the Rebels won a game they had to have. They were 7-point favorites over Utah State, easily the worst team on their schedule.
Instead of a crushing setback, UNLV now has something to build on heading into the rugged stretch of its schedule, beginning with a Sept. 8 home game against No. 7 Wisconsin.
But getting by Utah State was not easy, especially in the first half when the Aggies took a 10-3 lead. They loaded the box, blitzed repeatedly and dared UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Dixon to throw. Rebels coaches also were leery of giving Dixon too much to handle, and the offense as a whole looked as if it couldn't score in an arena football game.
By halftime, UNLV had just one first down and 49 yards. "We were trying to figure out what they were doing," Dixon said.
The coaches liberalized the second-half play calling and ran several empty sets to turn Dixon loose and to spread out the Aggies so they couldn't blitz as often.
UNLV totaled 265 yards in the second half, and Dixon finished the game with 141 yards passing and 129 rushing.
The Rebels' defense wouldn't let Utah State breathe, holding the Aggies to 234 yards, including 92 in the second half.
"After the first series, we knew that we could stop them every time," said UNLV linebacker Beau Bell, who forced two fumbles.
But the second half was hardly tension free.
When UNLV went ahead 15-10 on Dixon's 15-yard touchdown run with 12:46 left, the Rebels opted to kick the extra point rather than go for two. Sanford said he didn't want to lose on a pair of Utah State field goals if the 2-point conversion didn't work, but it seemed an odd strategy for the time in the game.
The decision left UNLV vulnerable to a late score and an easy extra point. And, indeed, it almost worked out that way.
Dixon's fumble set up a 34-yard scoring drive for the Aggies, but kicker Chris Ulinski missed the extra point to leave the scored tied at 16.
UNLV eventually got the ball with 3:08 left at Utah State's 36-yard line and soon advanced to the 11. Summers took the handoff for an inside run but saw space to the left and bolted to the end zone.
"I saw one guy getting me," Summers said. "Me being 240 (pounds), if I can't beat one guy, I've got some problems. I believe being one-on-one ... I'm going to win that battle every time."