Turnovers block UNLV’s quarterback decision after scrimmage

You can’t go wrong with a statistic that produced perfection.

You can’t make a better argument to your football team about how important a specific number is when all it does is generate wins.

For some time now, Tony Sanchez has reminded his UNLV players of this: Last season, Mountain West teams that were plus-3 or better in turnover margin were undefeated in those games.

Those that were plus-2 or better won 91 percent of the time.

“Those are things we need to make happen,” Sanchez said.

They can begin by taking care of the ball.

Flawless worlds don’t exist in most college programs, much less one from a non-Power 5 conference and that has managed just a single winning season since 2001.

So it goes that less than two weeks before the Rebels open their second season under Sanchez, it remains undecided who will assume the starter’s role at the most critical position when Jackson State visits Sam Boyd Stadium on Sept. 1.

What has never been uncertain is how Sanchez expects his quarterback to perform, which is to say not making the types of decisions witnessed Friday.

Johnny Stanton is a junior-college transfer and Kurt Palandech the junior who started three games and saw action in 11 last season for the Rebels, and one will emerge the starter from a competition where neither has been able to create much separation. Which is a good thing on some days and not so much on others.

The team’s second fall scrimmage likely didn’t help Sanchez and his staff much in trying to make a final decision, which is why the coach said afterward that both quarterbacks will play against the Tigers, a Football Championship Subdivision team out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Each quarterback threw red-zone interceptions Friday, and the one by Palandech was returned 99 yards for a touchdown. You know things aren’t totally set at quarterback when the best one on the field for a fall scrimmage is a No. 3 (redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed) who isn’t expected to play barring injury and questions still rise about the possibility of a skilled and yet incredibly inexperienced true freshman (6-foot-5-inch Armani Rogers) potentially seeing time this season.

“Interceptions in the red zone are a mortal sin for a quarterback,” Stanton said. “We can’t have that. We made a lot of mistakes and that’s not our standard or how we have been practicing. We took a step backward in terms of ball security, so for the next two weeks of practice, we need to focus on that. All the quarterbacks, especially myself, need to make better decisions. If we are consistent and hard-nosed and make big plays and hold onto ball, we will win a lot of games.”

Said Palandech: “Too many mental mistakes today. There were plays to be made out there and we made a couple screw-ups and I take responsibility for that. I’ll be ready for whatever. I’ll prepare for Jackson State like I’m the starter and whatever happens happens.”

It was believed a foregone conclusion by many that Stanton would assume the No. 1 role upon signing out of Saddleback College by way of Nebraska, a junior college All-American with the Gauchos after throwing for 3,471 yard and 27 touchdowns and whose experience included two seasons in Lincoln backing up Tommy Armstrong.

But the truth is, Sanchez departed last year’s 3-9 record wanting to at least create a clean slate and fair competition for Palandech in 2016.

Why: He completed just 49 percent of his passes and threw for nine touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing for four scores. But often Palandech’s role was being inserted into the middle of games when starter Blake Decker went down, having only received a third of the reps in practice.

He was also working behind an offensive line that grew worse by the week, one with no depth and which had zero chance of holding up physically once November arrived.

Ego in coaches is often trumped by just one element, and that is an insatiable hunger to win. Sanchez absolutely owns it. If he ultimately believes Palandech, also a former junior college player, gives the Rebels the best chance to win, Sanchez will play him.

“If it’s one of those deals where you need to let it play out before (naming the starter), we’ll let it play out,” Sanchez said. “You don’t rush this decision because it’s going to have a major impact on our season. One guy will be named the starter and begin to get a majority of the reps, but you’re going to see whoever is No. 2 at some point during the first half (against Jackson State).

“(Turnovers) are going to happen in the red zone but they can’t happen too often. Manage the offense. Protect the ball. Can those things be cleaned up? Absolutely.”

Question is, which quarterback will be given a dust mop first?

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney

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