UNLV coach Mike Sanford was right, there is no such thing as a preseason game in college football.
But this was pretty darn close.
The Rebels never were in real danger Saturday night against overmatched Sacramento State, not even when leading by just seven points at halftime.
Led by tailback Channing Trotter’s three 1-yard touchdown runs, UNLV broke open the game in the second half for a 38-3 season-opening victory at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“In college football, there are no mulligans,” Sanford said. “There are no preseason games, no scrimmages, there’s no nothing. And so you have to come out of the blocks playing good right away.”
The Rebels certainly played well enough on this night, but they weren’t in midseason form, either. They must raise their level of play with Oregon State visiting next Saturday.
Getting up for the Beavers, of course, will be easier than getting fired up to play the Hornets, a Football Championship Subdivision team.
The statistics bared the difference between the teams.
UNLV outgained Sacramento State 466 yards to 228 and had 21 first downs to 12 for the Hornets.
Individually, Trotter made a statement in trying to keep the starting tailback job he won in preseason. He became the first Rebel to rush for three touchdowns in a game since quarterback Jason Thomas in 2002, and Trotter gained 102 yards on 16 carries.
“I felt I wasn’t really in rhythm in the first half,” said Trotter, who rushed for 46 yards in the first half. “I needed to get all the carries I could under my belt because this was my first time out there starting and being the guy.”
Quarterback Omar Clayton was sharp in completing 13 of 17 passes for 213 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Rodelin Anthony with 6:53 left in the game for 31-3 lead.
Linebackers Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo each had 11 tackles. Fuimaono also had a sack and Paulo two tackles for loss. This was Fuimaono’s first action since injuring his left knee in the second game of last season.
“It was great to see Starr play,” Sanford said. “He loves playing the game … and came out of the game healthy, which is awesome.”
Though the defense played well, it did allow Hornets running back Terrance Dailey, a Washington transfer, to rush for 101 yards on 19 carries.
“I felt at times we gave up a little too much in the run game on defense,” Sanford said. “We’ve got some things we’ve got to improve there.”
There is uncertainty regarding UNLV end/linebacker Jason Beauchamp, who apparently sprained an ankle. Sanford didn’t have further information on his status.
UNLV, at first, looked like it wouldn’t need to wait until the second half to put away the Hornets. The Rebels scored on their first two drives to take a 10-0 lead but then seemed to play down to the competition the first half.
But Trotter’s 1-yard scoring run late in the third quarter gave the Rebels a 17-3 lead, and they scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a convincing first victory.
“One of the things we want to develop is a killer instinct,” Sanford said. “When we have somebody down, we’ve got to put the throttle down and put them away. We didn’t do that in the second quarter, but in the second half we did.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Read the latest UNLV football updates at lvrj.com/blogs/unlv_sports.audio slide show
SACRAMENTO STATE 3
KEY: Channing Trotter ran for three 1-yard touchdowns for the Rebels, who held a 466-228 edge in offensive yards.
NEXT: Oregon State at UNLV, 8 p.m. Saturday, CBS-C (333), KWWN-AM (1100)