UNLV might have two 1,000-yard rushers this season in juniors Charles Williams and Armani Rogers.
Williams is the starting running back, and it would be considered a disappointing season if he didn’t at least challenge that mark. Rogers, though, is the quarterback, who also is 6 feet 5 inches and 225 pounds and has an NFL-level arm.
UNLV coaches want to take advantage of that skill set and are emphasizing the run-pass option this season. About 15 percent of plays last season were RPOs. This season it’s a third of the playbook.
“It’s Armani, but not just Armani,” coach Tony Sanchez said of the added emphasis. “It’s kind of the game and where it’s gone. Offenses are so evolved now to where there are a lot of pre-snap reads, and then there are post-snaps reads. Any time you can give your guy options to get you out of a bad play, it’s a good thing. There are very few times when you’re just going to call set plays nowadays.”
RPOs are becoming a bigger part of game plans at the college and professional levels.
The quarterback reads the defense — sometimes a specific defender, sometimes an alignment — and then decides whether to pass, hand off or keep the ball. Rogers needs to improve his 49.3 career completion percentage, so the plan is to throw more intermediate passes this season.
On the ground, he averages 5.6 yards per carry and has 1,345 career yards, within striking distance of Jason Thomas’ school record of 1,528 yards rushing by a quarterback, which was set from 2000 to 2002.
“If (the defenders) think I’m going to run, they’re leaving somebody unattended, and I’m able to hit (receivers) downfield,” Rogers said. “Or if they’re thinking I’m not going to run,” he will run.
He also can hand the ball to Williams, who has a 5.5-yard career rushing average.
Rogers didn’t run the RPO much at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, and he was eased into that offense when he signed with UNLV in 2016 and redshirted his first season. He got a good taste of the offense his first two seasons, though Rogers missed 10 starts because of injuries.
Now the RPO is an even bigger part of the offense.
“I think Armani’s done a really, really nice job so far,” offensive coordinator Garin Justice said. “We’ve done some stuff that’s cleaned up the system, given him a lot more yes/no answers. He’s doing a lot more than just reading one guy.”
This offense should fit Rogers better than it did for last season’s backup, junior Max Gilliam, who started seven games in 2018 but is out for about another month with a foot injury. Redshirt freshman Kenyon Oblad heads into the Aug. 31 season opener against Southern Utah at Sam Boyd Stadium as the No. 2 quarterback, but he doesn’t have Rogers’ running ability.
Then again, not many do.
“Let’s face it, I don’t care what team you’re coaching, plays are going to break down,” Sanchez said. “(Rogers) is an elite dude. He’s probably a 1-percenter in the nation at that spot if a play breaks down, turning it into something positive. He can score from anywhere.”