SALT LAKE CITY — UNLV took the Rice-Eccles Stadium field determined to show last season’s result wasn’t a fluke.
The Rebels did just that — for a half.
Then it was over.
No. 22 Utah took over in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns to break a halftime tie and beat the Rebels 42-21 in Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.
“I think the second half is not the kind of football we want to play,” UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. “We reverted back to some bad, old habits. That’s not our identity and not who we are, but unfortunately that’s who we were in the second half.”
The second half — in which Utah outscored UNLV 28-7 — was the type of treatment the Rebels (1-1) were used to receiving by the Utes before last year’s 27-0 shocker over Utah in Las Vegas. That ended UNLV’s 11-game series skid.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham talked this past week about responding to that defeat by beginning a 15-game winning streak over the Rebels. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but Utah (2-0) left little doubt it was the superior team on this night.
Not that UNLV, which plays at Arizona State this Saturday, didn’t make it interesting.
The 22-point underdogs even took the opening drive 80 yards, scoring on tailback Frank Summers’ 2-yard run. A 3-yard touchdown run by Summers with 5:01 left in the second quarter put UNLV ahead 14-7.
But a combination of issues changed the game, such as injuries to UNLV linebackers Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo, a tying touchdown by Utah 51.6 seconds before halftime and long punt and kickoff returns that put UNLV in poor field position in the second half.
The Utes took advantage, scoring those three touchdowns in the third quarter — two on passes from quarterback Brian Johnson and the other on wide receiver David Reed’s 15-yard reverse.
Johnson completed 15 of 24 passes for 183 yards and rushed for 80 yards on five carries. He accounted for three touchdowns passing and running.
“I think UNLV has an underrated defense,” Johnson said. “They do a good job. You have to be patient, soften them up and be explosive to take advantage of their mistakes.”
As Utah’s offense — which gained 225 yards rushing — rose up, so did its defense. The Rebels as a team gained just 11 yards in the third quarter, and lost 6 rushing.
Summers tallied 82 yards on 18 carries at halftime but ended the game with just 87 yards on 23 attempts.
“It was night and day between the first half and the second half for us,” Summers said. “I could tell, and I think the players could tell. No excuses. Hats off to the Utes. They played a great second half.”
Sanford blamed the bad field position and loud noise from the sellout crowd as reasons for the futility in the running game.
“We didn’t get off on the snap count the way you’ve got to get off in order to block in the run game,” he said.
There were many reasons, though, why the night didn’t end as well as it began for the Rebels.
“We played with them for the first half,” said UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton, who was 19 of 30 for 159 yards and a touchdown. “Those key words are ‘for the first half,’ so that’s where maybe that No. (22) in the nation comes into play.
“So if we ever want to get in a situation like that, we’ve got to learn how to come out in the second half and play.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.UTAH — 42 UNLV — 21
KEY: The Rebels were held to 11 yards of offense in the third quarter and outscored 21-0 in the period.
NEXT: Rebels at Arizona State, 7 p.m. Saturday