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Rebels’ Clayton playing smart

Hidden away in Ely for training camp, Omar Clayton completed pass after pass as he took charge of the offense.

UNLV football fans couldn’t see the success he was having as the Rebels practiced a four-hour drive north of Las Vegas.

Clayton was most likely remembered as the guy who last season, in his first career start, had two interceptions and two fumbles in the first half against Colorado State. Fans probably also remembered his five interceptions in seven games.

Perhaps that’s why there is such surprise Clayton hasn’t thrown an interception or lost a fumble in the first three games this season.

Even back in that four-turnover first half against Colorado State, though, Clayton showed his mental toughness. An 18-year-old freshman at the time, he had just one giveaway in the second half while becoming the first UNLV quarterback to surpass 300 yards passing and 100 rushing in the same game.

“When I do have a turnover or when I do have a mistake in a game, I’ll learn from that mistake,” Clayton said. “But I don’t even worry about it anymore, because there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

Clayton is now seeing success. In leading the Rebels to a 2-1 record entering Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against Iowa State (2-1) at Sam Boyd Stadium, he has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 542 yards and six touchdowns.

“He’s got a greater understanding of the offense, and he’s got some chemistry with the receivers right now,” said offensive coordinator Todd Berry, who also oversees the quarterbacks. “He reads those kids pretty well right now and knows where to place the ball.”

Clayton isn’t alone in playing error-free ball.

UNLV has gone three consecutive games without a turnover. The school’s sports information department doesn’t have a record of that ever happening before.

“We do a lot of ball-security drills,” tailback Frank Summers said. “One thing I do every day: ‘Take care of the ball, take care of the ball, take care of the ball, take care of the ball.’ I beat it in my head, and I’ve been very successful at it so far.”

UNLV is the only Football Bowl Series team that has played three games without a turnover. Florida and Tulsa are the only others without one, but they each have played just twice.

The Rebels, though, have had close calls.

They have fumbled three times, recovering each one. And in Saturday’s 23-20 victory at Arizona State, wide receivers Ryan Wolfe and Rodelin Anthony fought for a pass in overtime that bounced around and could have been intercepted. Wolfe finally came up with the grab, which might have saved the game.

It also could be argued that the promising start to this season could have a much different tone if the Rebels weren’t protecting the ball.

Now that they have a nice thing going, the danger is becoming too careful to avoid ending the no-turnover streak.

“You just go out and play,” Clayton said. “You just hope that what you’ve practiced can relate out on the field. You make good decisions in practices, and ultimately that’s going to result in good decisions on the field.”

Berry said no one is backing off being aggressive.

“We want to go out and make plays, too,” he said. “The quarterback position, part of that is going out there and throwing deep balls and not being scared to try to make plays.”

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

 

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