It was certainly closer that it was supposed to be on Saturday night in DeKalb, but the Northern Illinois opened the season 1-0 after a 38-30 win over the UNLV Rebels.
Predictably, this game had loads of offensive firepower. UNLV and Northern Illinois combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense. Drew Hare was remarkably efficient. The NIU signal caller completed 21 of his 26 pass attempts for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Huskies were tasked with battling a pair of UNLV quarterbacks. Blake Decker threw for 319 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception, while Kurt Palandech added 42 yards on the ground on 5 carries.
Northern Illinois won the ground game Saturday. Joel Bouagnon topped the century mark for the first time in his career. Bouagnon totaled 152 yards on 21 carries and punched in 3 scores. UNLV's running back by committee scheme got off to a rough start. Freshman Xzaviar Campbell and Lexington Thomas, expected to challenge for the starting job this season, combined for just 18 yards on 5 carries. Keith Whitely paced the Rebs with 68 yards on 21 carries.
Both teams bad wide receivers who turned in big performances. In the absence of Tommylee Lewis, who caught two passes for 44 yards before departing with a leg injury, Kenny Golladay became Drew Hare's favorite target. Golladay led all receivers, with 213 yards on 9 catches. Last season's Mountain West Conference freshman of the year, Devonte Boyd, led the Rebels with 5 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
UNLV led 17-10 at the half. The Rebels committed the only turnover of the game, a Blake Decker interception. Saturday's game was the first for UNLV coach Tony Sanchez, who made the jump from high school to FBS. NIU outgained UNLV by 52 yards despite losing the time of possession battle by 11 minutes.
Both teams are back in action next Saturday. Northern Illinois welcomes Murray State to DeKalb while UNLV hosts UCLA in Las Vegas.