Now UNLV has a chance to respond, but this isn’t about sending a statement to its critics.
This is about sending one to itself, that the Rebels are much better than they showed in last Saturday’s 43-17 loss to Arkansas State.
They need to be if they want to at least compete with Northwestern at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Evanston, Illinois. The betting lines have fluctuated all week, and UNLV was a 17½-point underdog as of Friday.
How the Rebels (1-1) respond at Northwestern (0-1) will tell a lot about the direction of their season. Even if they lose but are competitive, the Rebels can build on that performance. Another stinker like against Arkansas State, and it’s difficult to imagine UNLV being able to rally with other difficult games that remain on its schedule.
“Coach (Tony Sanchez) always tell us, ‘This is what really is going to determine the team,’ ” UNLV linebacker Javin White said. “How do you come back to work? I’m coming ready to play.”
Leading up to the game, quarterback talk dominated the Las Vegas and Chicago media markets.
UNLV’s Armani Rogers completed 8 of 23 passes for 42 yards with an interception against Arkansas State, and Sanchez talked after the game about creating a competition. Rogers remains the starter, but if he begins slowly, Sanchez likely wouldn’t hesitate to turn to backup Kenyon Olbad.
Oblad entered late against the Red Wolves, and went 3-for-3 for 70 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown.
“I definitely want to be out there every drive,” Rogers said. “But at the end of the day, they’ll have do what they have to do.”
The Wildcats also hope for a much better performance from Hunter Johnson, who completed 6 of 17 passes for 55 yards with two interceptions two weeks ago in a 17-7 loss at Stanford and was benched. His replacement, TJ Green, suffered a season-ending foot injury.
Like Sanchez continued to do with Rogers, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald expressed confidence in Johnson, a Clemson transfer. As a reserve in 2017 for the Tigers, Johnson completed 77.8 percent of his passes and had a 167.6 rating.
For UNLV, it’s only mid-September, but like the old Yogi Berra line, it’s getting late early.
The Rebels need a strong response against the Wildcats, or their season will be in danger of getting away. Including Northwestern, four of UNLV’s next five games are on the road.
“We know what we’re capable of doing,” Rogers said.
This is a familiar theme for the Rebels, who haven’t been to a bowl since the 2013 season.
It’s up to them to reverse that history. Especially if few others think they can accomplish that, UNLV’s players need to believe it themselves and use it as a rallying point.
“It’s been that way for a long time, and I get it completely,” Sanchez said. “There’s (not) a lot of hope around this program, not a lot of belief and conviction, other than the people inside the locker room. We know how hard we’ve worked. We know we’re more talented than we’ve been. But it’s all got to translate on Saturdays.”
■ Who: UNLV at Northwestern
■ When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
■ Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
■ TV: Big Ten Network
■ Radio: KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
■ Line: Northwestern -17½; total 52½