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Max Gilliam takes lead in UNLV’s quarterback battle

UNLV’s quarterback battle probably will last the entire season, but senior Max Gilliam appears to have a leg up on the competition.

Gilliam played the entire game in a 37-19 loss to UNR on Saturday at Allegiant Stadium, a week after he, Kenyon Oblad and Justin Rogers all played in the season-opening 34-6 road loss against San Diego State.

“He’s improved; I think that’s the bottom line,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said of Gilliam. “He’s shown improvement, and he’s shown leadership. He’s been deliberate in his approach at practice. These last two weeks, he and Justin have put themselves in position to keep elevating the process at that position.”

Gilliam played almost the entire second half against San Diego State and led the Rebels to their only touchdown. He finished 13 of 21 for 105 yards and a TD pass to Steve Jenkins.

Gilliam was 27 of 40 for 207 yards and two touchdowns against UNR, and the offense looked sharper, particularly when comparing the first halves of the two games.

The Rebels mounted only 25 yards of offense against San Diego State in the first half, but had that number eclipsed in four plays against UNR and finished the first half with 206 yards. UNLV finished with 222 yards passing against UNR, factoring in wide receiver Kyle Williams hitting on a 15-yard pass off an end-around.

“I’d say (the difference) was just executing,” Gilliam said after Saturday’s game. “We were running mostly the same stuff, but we got a little more comfortable and executed a little better.”

Arroyo appears to have narrowed his focus on Gilliam and Rogers. That leaves Oblad as the third-string quarterback a season after starting nine games as a redshirt freshman.

Oblad didn’t produce a first down in his four series against San Diego State, and his fumble in the final seconds is the Rebels’ only turnover this season.

That’s what the race comes down to for Arroyo — production.

“Max and Justin, as we started the install, were on the same timeline,” Arroyo said. “Neither of them got the playbook earlier than the other. It’s been more production. Both of those guys played, and we’ll continue to elevate and compete this week. The percentage of reps will still be divvied up.”

Rogers, a sophomore transfer from Texas Christian, showed a glimpse of his running ability with a 12-yard spurt that gave UNLV its only first down in the first half against San Diego State. But his two completed passes in four tries combined to lose a yard.

If Rogers makes strides and supplants Gilliam as the starter for a game, it will keep an ignominious streak for UNLV going. Nobody has started every game behind center for the Rebels since Jon Denton in 1996.

The next step for the offense will be finding ways to get yards in chunks. Even with the improved production, the Rebels averaged 4.8 yards per play to 9.2 for UNR.

“You want to have explosive plays and not give them up,” Arroyo said. “That’s part of the keys to victory in what we’re doing. That’s something we’re trying to solve each week, try to find ways to have explosive plays however we can do it.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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