Rebels try not to stifle Clayton

LARAMIE, Wyo. — It’s a delicate balance for UNLV’s coaches. They want freshman quarterback Omar Clayton to cut down on mistakes, but they don’t want him to be so careful that it takes away from his promising playmaking ability.

“I think that’s one of the keys to being a good quarterback,” coach Mike Sanford said. “I think you’ve got to be aggressive. I think you’ve got to take chances. But you’ve got to be smart about taking chances.”

Clayton will get his second straight start when the Rebels play at Wyoming at 11 a.m. today. Redshirt freshman Travis Dixon, UNLV’s starter for the first seven games, could play some, but Sanford said the job belongs to Clayton.

“Omar Clayton does more things and has more upside to him, and we need to play him,” Sanford said.

UNLV (2-6, 1-3 Mountain West Conference) hopes Clayton can help the Rebels end their four-game losing streak. Wyoming (4-3, 1-2) is coming off back-to-back losses.

Clayton showed against Colorado State last Saturday he has tremendous potential but must eliminate mistakes.

“He has a chance to be really good,” Sanford said. “Star is something that’s very much too early to coronate, but I think he has a ton of ability, and I think he adds a lot to our offense. I’m excited to see him develop.”

In the Rebels’ 48-23 home loss to Colorado State, Clayton became the first quarterback in school history to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 100 in the same game. For a program that once had dual threat Randall Cunningham taking snaps, it was a remarkable accomplishment for Clayton’s first start. He finished with 439 yards of total offense.

“I certainly don’t expect to duplicate it every game because I don’t think anybody can do that,” Clayton said. “I just hope I’m able to keep performing, that it’s not just a one-hit wonder, which I definitely don’t believe to be the case.”

After walking on as the No. 5 quarterback on the depth chart, Clayton has played well enough to earn a scholarship after this season.

Of course, physical ability isn’t everything. Clayton also showed mental toughness after committing four turnovers in the first half against the Rams. He had one giveaway in the second half while completing 18 of 26 passes for 279 yards.

“I wasn’t worried about what happened in the first half because I needed to perform for the second half,” Clayton said. “You have to (make plays), especially trying to come back. You can’t be timid. You have to put points on the board to win the game.”

But no matter what kind of numbers Clayton puts up, they do no good if he keeps giving the ball to the opposition. Considering his inexperience, mistakes are bound to occur. But if Clayton responds as he did against the Rams, that bodes well for his future.

Sanford called the turnovers “correctable,” and Clayton agreed.

“It’s very simple,” Clayton said. “It’s nothing too complicated. It was nothing I was overthinking.”

Wyoming has one advantage Colorado State didn’t. The Cowboys have a full game on videotape to devise how they might cause Clayton problems, though Sanford said that edge is tempered because the offense itself did not change.

Cowboys coach Joe Glenn saw enough on tape to be impressed with the entire offense under Clayton’s control.

“They’re a little scary what they can do with the ball on offense,” Glenn said. “We’ll have our hands full.”

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

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