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Payne finally emerges in Rebels’ loss to UNR

Now if only UNLV would go back to throwing fade passes in the end zone to wide receiver Phillip Payne.

He caught just about every other type of pass thrown his way in a
44-26 loss to UNR on Saturday, finishing with eight receptions for 170 yards.

Not that Payne was in a celebratory mood afterward.

“I don’t even know what stats I had,” he said. “We lost, plain and simple.”

It easily was his best game this season. Payne had 15 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the Rebels’ first four games combined, but exploited the Wolf Pack’s man-to-man coverage.

Payne, a Western High School graduate, entered his junior season expecting to be the Rebels’ go-to receiver after the departure of UNLV career-leading receiver Ryan Wolfe.

Playing in Wolfe’s shadow last season, Payne caught 58 passes for 661 yards and seven touchdowns.

Junior Michael Johnson actually became UNLV’s prime receiver before Saturday, making 20 receptions for 279 yards. He also was coming off an eight-catch, 138-yard, three-touchdown effort the week before against New Mexico.

Even Johnson acknowledged after that game against the Lobos that any receiver could find himself the top target depending on the situation.

“In the New Mexico game, I had no problem being second receiver to Mike Johnson because we came out with a W,” Payne said.

Though Payne didn’t reach the end zone against the Wolf Pack, he helped set up three UNLV scores.

Payne’s 13-yard reception in the first quarter to UNR’s 4-yard line helped set up the Rebels’ first touchdown.

He also put UNLV in position for field goals with a 65-yard catch in the third quarter and a 24-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

Producing those types of plays should be more challenging when UNLV (1-4) plays at West Virginia (3-1) at 12:30 p.m. PDT Saturday.

The Mountaineers are 20th nationally in pass defense, allowing 164.8 yards per game. They also are eighth in total defense (249.3-yard average) and tied for 12th in scoring defense (14.5-point average).

■ NOTES — UNLV is a 27½-point underdog to West Virginia, but the Rebels covered big spreads against Wisconsin and UNR. … Senior quarterback Omar Clayton, who passed for 214 yards Saturday, moved past Sam King into third place on the Rebels’ career chart with 5,490 yards. Jon Denton, who threw for 6,177 yards, is second. … Cornerback Will Chandler’s interception was his fourth this season and sixth overall takeaway.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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