Hunter Johnson threw his first career touchdown pass and ran in another Saturday afternoon to lead Northwestern past UNLV, 30-14.
Drake Anderson ran for 141 yards and a touchdown to help the Wildcats win their home opener.
Charles Williams had scoring runs of 65 and 37 yards in the first half and ended the day with 144 on 16 carries as the Rebels (1-2) dropped their second straight.
Up 16-14 at the break, Northwestern (1-1) gave itself some breathing room late in third quarter when Johnson found a streaking J.J. Jefferson for a 50-yard touchdown. The sophomore quarterback was 12 for 25 for 165 yards with an interception. The effort came two weeks after he struggled in his first collegiate start, a loss at Stanford marked by an offense that often sputtered.
Two of UNLV’s three second-half turnovers turned into Northwestern touchdowns. The second score, Anderson’s 7-yard run in the final two minutes, put the game away.
Rebels quarterback Armani Rogers, criticized by coach Tony Sanchez after last week’s loss, was 16 for 26 for 120 yards and an interception. He was sacked five times in the second half.
The teams traded touchdowns on their opening possessions but the Wildcats took the lead at intermission thanks to three Charlie Kuhbander field goals.
UNLV: The Rebels get a week off before opening Mountain West play and can use it to work on a passing game that showed diminishing returns for the second straight weekend. The Rebels ran up 189 yards on the ground in the first 30 minutes but struggled to find any balance in the second half as the Wildcats dared Rogers to beat them with his arm.
Northwestern: Johnson walked off the field with his first career touchdown pass and might’ve had a couple more if not for narrow misses by receivers. The Wildcats will need the sophomore’s best Saturday when they welcome No. 18 Michigan State and its stingy run defense for both teams’ Big Ten opener.
UNLV: Visits Wyoming on Sept. 28.
Northwestern: Welcomes Michigan State on Saturday.