It is simplistic to say UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Dixon plays better with the lights on, though there is truth to that statement.
The larger truth is that when Dixon is allowed to play real football — no play stoppages the moment a finger touches him — he is at his best.
Rebels coach Mike Sanford allowed him to play real football on the final drive of Friday’s spring game at Sam Boyd Stadium, and Dixon came through to lead the Scarlet team on a 75-yard touchdown drive to beat the Gray, 17-14.
Dixon keyed the drive with a 27-yard run to the Gray 24-yard line on fourth-and-9.
“He played at the end like it was live,” Sanford said of the quarterback being allowed to be touched. “I let some things go that I don’t think were sacks. In the game, they would not have been sacks.
“Travis is hard to tackle, real hard to tackle. He’s a good runner, and he’s very elusive. He can scramble and make some things happen.”
Dixon showed that in early spring practice when the quarterbacks were live, often breaking tackles for big gains.
But when the quarterbacks were ruled down upon being touched, Dixon’s play suffered.
Given more freedom late in the spring game, he completed 11 of 21 passes for 124 yards and rushed for 23 yards on five carries.
“I try to practice at game speed all the time in practice,” Dixon said. “It’s kind of hard to do some of the things that you would do in a game situation in practice when you’re only two-hand touch. You can’t make the plays that you need to make.”
Dixon is competing mostly against junior Dack Ishii for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind junior Rocky Hinds, who missed all of spring practice after undergoing surgery on his right knee in January.
“Going into our last two scrimmages, I would’ve said that Travis was ahead of Dack,” Sanford said. “Two scrimmages before this one, Travis didn’t play well. Obviously, there was some concern. I thought the way he played tonight was excellent.
“Nothing’s determined yet. He still has something to prove, but I thought he showed more tonight than what he had been showing in practices 1 through 9.”
Ishii was 4-for-11 for 88 yards Friday, but Dixon wasn’t making any assumptions about becoming the No. 2 QB.
Incoming freshman Mike Clausen also could figure in the competition when he arrives in August.
“I’ve still got to compete coming into fall camp,” Dixon said. “Spring ball’s not it.
“I think I put myself in a good spot to compete for the No. 2 spot.”
• NOTES — Senior tailback Ronnie Smith scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with seven seconds left. Junior Frank Summers, a 240-pounder, normally would have been the back in the fourth-down situation, but Sanford was resting Summers and other players at that point to avoid injury. … Sanford said the players who caught his eye were Dixon, Summers, sophomore wide receiver Ryan Wolfe and freshman cornerback Quinton Pointer. Summers rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, Wolfe caught five passes for 80 yards, and Pointer returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown.UNLV Football