San Diego State players and coaches have said for weeks that the Aztecs haven't come close to playing their best game the season.
They're still waiting.
SDSU remained unbeaten on the season, beating UNLV 41-10 Saturday night in a Mountain West game played before 19,770 fans at Sam Boyd Stadium.
SDSU (6-0, 2-0 MW) became bowl eligible for the eighth straight season while extending the school's best start since the 1975 team began the year with eight straight victories.
In addition, the No. 19 Aztecs have an eye on improving their national standing after No. 17 Louisville's loss this week. No. 18 South Florida has the week off. The new polls come out Sunday morning. SDSU is approaching its highest ranking in 40 years, when the Aztecs reached No. 16 in the final week of the 1977 season.
Coming into the game, SDSU head coach Rocky Long said: "We're not even close to where I think we can be. We're not playing very well right now. I mean, people may think I'm lying, but I'm not lying. We're not playing very well right now, we're playing just like a young football team plays. We make a lot of mistakes but the players have a great spirit, they play really hard, they think they're going to win and somehow they're finding a way to win."
This game fell into the same pattern before the defense stepped up and shut out the Rebels (2-3, 1-1) in the second half.
The Aztecs came out strong against UNLV, but, once again, slipped up here and there, preventing them from the dominating performance they seek. That may sound strange, considering they won by 31 points.
SDSU drove the opening possession methodically down the field, the offensive line boosted by the return of senior guard Antonio Rosales from an ankle injury. The drive made half of the first quarter disappear in 12 plays that took the ball to the UNLV 1-yard line.
Running back Rashaad Penny fumbled the ball away on the 13th play, however, and the Aztecs came away with nothing.
SDSU produced a 27-yard John Baron II field goal on its next possession, although UNLV's Daniel Gutierrez countered with a 35-yard field goal to make it 3-3 after one period.
The Aztecs dominated the quarter, but had little to show for it. They had the ball nearly 11 minutes in the quarter. Almost all of UNLV's 60 yards came on a 45-yard run by quarterback Armani Rogers.
SDSU seemed poised to take over the game in the first five minutes of the second quarter when quarterback Christian Chapman weaved his way for a 14-yard touchdown and running back Juwan Washington broke loose for a 34-yard score for a 17-3 lead.
UNLV came right back, however, when Rogers hit Brandon Presley on a 44-yard pass before completing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kendal Keys.
SDSU took a 20-10 lead into halftime after settling for a 33-yard Baron field goal with 21 seconds remaining in the first half.
SDSU wide receiver Mikah Holder had a big first half, catching seven passes for 106 yards. He finished the game with nine catches for 144 yards, easily making him the favorite target of Chapman (14 for 24, 172 yards) in the game.
Penny had bursts of 36 and 24 yards on SDSU's first possession of the third quarter before carrying for a 3-yard touchdown that provided a 27-10 lead midway through the quarter.
Penny added another 3-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to finish the scoring. Penny rushed 27 times for 170 yards, giving him 993 yards on the season. That leaves him seven yards away from recording the 25th 1,000-yard rushing season in SDSU history.
Penny rushed for 1,018 yards last year while serving as D.J. Pumphrey's understudy. He is averaging 165 yards a game this season, which would put him on pace to break Pumphrey's single-season school record of 2,133 yards set last season.
Third-string running back Chase Jasmin came on late in the fourth quarter and scored on an 8-yard run to give SDSU its final touchdown of the game.
UNLV came into the game ranked sixth in the nation in rushing with 305 yards a game. SDSU limited the Rebels to 106 yards, holding running back Lexington Thomas to 54 yards – nearly 100 below his average – on 14 carries.