Clayton leads UNLV to win in season opener

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Sam Morris

UNLV quarterback Mike Clausen looks for some running room during the second quarter against Utah State at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Win Number One

The Rebels opened the 2008 campaign with a 27-17 win over Utah State in their home opener. Find additional coverage here or view photos from the game.

UNLV season opener

A UNLV fan celebrates Saturday as UNLV takes an early lead with a touchdown in the first quarter at Sam Boyd Stadium. Launch slideshow »

UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton led the Rebels onto the field at Sam Boyd Stadium for the initial drive of the season Saturday against Utah State and proceeded to misfire on his first two passes. The Rebels were forced to punt.

You couldn't blame Clayton for the slow start. The sophomore was seeing his first action since fracturing his hand last year and had the added pressure of proving he was the right selection as the Rebels' signal caller.

After two scoring drives capped by Clayton touchdown passes, the Rebels were on the way to their third straight season-opening victory.

Clayton passed for 192 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, and Ryan Wolfe had seven receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns as the Rebels beat Utah State, 27-17.

"The exciting part about it -- and he knows it and I know it -- is that he can play better," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said.

Clayton, a former walk-on who went from No. 5 on the depth chart to starter by UNLV's eighth game last year, also rushed for 17 yards on four carries. He injured his hand after three games as the starter last year and had to win the job back in the off-season.

Now, he is looking to do more winning -- this time, leading the Rebels to what he hopes is a significant improvement. They have won two games in each of the last four years.

"It's definitely been a long ride when you think about it," Clayton said. "I started as far back as you can, but once I got here I was able to make a few plays a day."

The Rebels struggled moving the ball in the second half. They scored only 10 points -- a Clayton 32-yard scoring strike to Wolfe and a 42-yard field goal from Ben Jaekle -- and were limited to 136 yards.

Jaekle's field goal gave UNLV a 27-10 advantage with 6 minutes, 54 seconds to play. Utah State closed the scoring when second-string quarterback Diondre Borel threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Nmandi Gwacham with 2:16 to play, but the Rebels recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.

"We had chances to put the game away and we didn't," Sanford said. "You have to be able to put a team like that away."

Clayton gave the Rebels a 7-0 lead with 6:23 to play in the first quarter when he found Wolfe for a 9-yard touchdown.

Utah State answered with a 12-play, 82-yard drive to even the game when Robert Turbin scored from 1 yard out on the first play of the second quarter.

But Clayton and the Rebels answered with a 14-play drive capped by a Clayton 7-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Phillip Payne for a 14-7 advantage. Kyle Watson added a 20-yard field goal and the Rebels led 17-7 at halftime.

Casey Flair caught four passes for 53 yards to move into fifth place on UNLV's all-time receiving list.

"It takes the pressure off me knowing I can rely on those guys (Wolfe and Flair) to make big plays," Clayton said.

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