The bar was set high for UNLV’s wide receivers, a group of players with almost undeniable talent but one still trying to find its way this season.
The receivers have shown flashes but haven’t consistently produced, which isn’t unexpected given the Rebels are breaking in a young quarterback.
“One thing in the passing game, it’s all about rhythm and consistency,” wide receivers coach Cedric Cormier said. “It starts in practice. We preach that all the time. You make those plays Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, you’re going to make them Saturday. So I think it’s us being more consistent, getting a better connection with the quarterback, and I think we’ll be fine.”
UNLV’s top receiver entering Saturday’s game at Air Force is Devonte Boyd, who is tied for 17th in the Mountain West in receptions per game with 3.4. Kendal Keys, the Rebels’ next top target, is tied for 30th with a 2.0 average.
But Keys said the chemistry the receivers are developing with quarterback Armani Rogers is improving.
“Armani, this is his first year, so he was still getting his rhythm down during the game (early in the season),” Keys said. “I think he’s got the game speed more down as more games have come.”
Rogers has been impressive in many ways, passing for 881 yards and rushing for 312 with eight touchdowns combined. But he’s also a redshirt freshman who has completed 56.7 percent of his passes, and six Mountain West quarterbacks are hitting on better than 60 percent of their throws.
His upside is tremendous, as shown at various points this season.
Rogers hit Boyd in stride for a 94-yard touchdown Sept. 9 at Idaho, the longest completion in UNLV history. On Sept. 30 against San Jose State, Rogers threw an out route to Brandon Presley, who used his vision and athleticism to turn the short throw into a 44-yard score.
UNLV needs those types of plays to become more the norm than the exception.
“I think in order for us to win a lot of games, we’re going to have to make some of those tough catches, and at times we haven’t done that,” coach Tony Sanchez said. “And at times we have. You saw some pretty dynamic things. It’s been great to see Brandon Presley the last couple of weeks really come into his own. He’s a guy that defenses have to be concerned about.
“We know Devonte is going to give us some good looks each game, and we want him to come up with some of those spectacular catches to be that really special guy that he is. I think overall those guys have done a decent job, but they can obviously do better, like everyone else.”
How quickly the chemistry and consistency come together remains to be seen.
The receivers have done enough to show they remain among the Mountain West’s best. Boyd is 473 yards from surpassing Ryan Wolfe as the Rebels’ all-time leader in receiving yards. Keys, who missed last season with a knee injury, caught 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.
This season, Boyd averages 23.1 yards per catch and Presley 20.0, and UNLV’s 8.7 yards per pass attempt is second in the conference to Air Force’s 11.3.
“By the time the season ends, I just want to see a group that shows up when the game is on the line,” Cormier said. “That’s third down, in the red zone, two-minute situations, fourth quarter.”
Name, No., Yds, Avg., TDs
Devonte Boyd — 17, 393, 23.1, 2
Kendal Keys — 10, 87, 8.7, 1
Brandon Presley — 9 ,180, 20.0, 1
Darren Woods Jr. — 6, 32, 5.3, 0
Tim Holt — 4, 42, 10.5, 0
Drew Tejchman 3 77 25.7 0
Trevor Kanteman 3 16 5.3 1