No. 19 San Diego State rolls past UNLV
LAS VEGAS — Normally when a running back rushes for 170 yards and two touchdowns while helping lead his team to an easy victory, there would be reason to celebrate.
But San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, like many on hand for the Aztecs’ 41-10 Mountain West victory over UNLV on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, had other things on his mind.
“I’m still emotional about it because I honestly haven’t recovered well from it,” Penny said referring to Sunday night’s brutal massacre of 58 people at a country western concert across from the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on the famed Las Vegas Strip. “This is something that happened to this city. I honestly played emotional tonight because it doesn’t matter where it happened. It’s still in America. For a man to take so many people’s lives like that, that honestly hurt.”
The game was preceded by a 15-minute ceremony honoring the victims of the shooting. Both teams lined up for the national anthem with first responders, medical personnel and police who were involved in treating the victims. Fifty-eight white balloons, one for each killed shooting victim, were released during the ceremony. UNLV and San Diego State each had special red bows honoring the victims on their helmets.
“Coming into this game it was emotional because there are so many people from Vegas on our team,” Penny said. “I felt what they were going through tonight, and I felt what the other guys on the other side of the field were going through. I tip my hat to them. Just coming out playing and seeing this city rally together with all these fans supporting, I mean this is an amazing job.”
It was the eighth straight win for the Aztecs (6-0, 2-0 MW) dating back to last season and also the team’s 12th road victory since Oct. 10, 2015, the most in the FBS during that span.
Penny, the only FBS player to score a touchdown receiving, rushing and on a kick return in a game this season, racked up his 170 yards on 27 carries and had a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs in the second half when the Aztecs outscored the Rebels, 21-0. It was his sixth straight 100-yard rushing game this season and 11th of his career.
Juwan Washington added 95 yards on 10 carries, including a 34-yard touchdown, and quarterback Christian Chapman completed 14-of-24 passes for 172 yards and rushed for a touchdown for San Diego State, which finished with 474 total yards, including 302 rushing. Senior wide receiver Mikah Holder finished with a career-best nine catches for a season-high 144 yards while freshman Chase Jasmin closed out the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run.
San Diego State, 6-0 for the first time since 1975, rolled up 280 total yards, including 150 rushing, on its way to a 20-10 halftime advantage.
The lead could have been even bigger except Penny fumbled a handoff from Chapman on second-and-goal at the UNLV 1-yard line on the opening drive that was recovered by linebacker Brian Keyes.
“It was frustrating ... you never want to put the ball on the ground, especially at the one-yard line,” Penny said. “But when you have amazing teammates like I have that pick you up when you’re down ... that’s what they did. They told me to put it behind me, and that’s what I did.”
After the teams traded a pair of field goals, the Aztecs took a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter on a 14-yard run by Chapman. Penny’s backup, Washington, made it 17-3 a few minutes later with a 34-yard run off left tackle following a 30-yard punt return by Quest Truxton.
UNLV (2-3, 1-1) closed to 17-10 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Armani Rogers to wide receiver Kendal Keys, but the Aztecs answered with 33-yard field goal from John Baron II with 21 seconds left in the half.
UNLV finished with just 283 yards, including 106 rushing, but coach Tony Sanchez refused to use the week’s events as an excuse for the poor performance. The Rebels entered the contest leading the Mountain West and ranked sixth nationally in rushing with an average of 305.5 yards per game.
“They were just tougher and more physical on both sides of the ball than we were tonight,” Sanchez said.
“I’m sure it wasn’t as hard on us (to focus on the game) as it was on them,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. “We talked about it with the team several times because we knew they were going to do something here to honor the victims and all that, and we wanted to make sure our team had the right attitude about it. I think we started early enough in the week that it probably didn’t do anything to our preparation for playing in the game.”
NOTES: San Diego State won its 35th consecutive game when rushing for at least 200 yards and improved to 43-2 in the Rocky Long era when rushing for at least 200 yards. ... Former UNLV head coaches Jeff Horton (1994-98) and Bobby Hauck (2010-14) are now assistants with San Diego State. ... San Diego State entered the game ranked 19th by the Associated Press, matching the highest ranking for the program since Jan. 3, 1978. ... Aztecs RB Rashaad Penny entered the contest tied for first in the FBS in touchdowns (10) and second in rushing yards per game (164.6) and all-purpose yards (229.0). His rushing total sits at 993 after Saturday’s contest.