University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I really didn't think this would happen, but UNLV is back to 2nd place in the Mountain West Conference after Fresno State was blown out by San Jose State last night. UNLV is now a full game ahead of Fresno State with only 2 games left on the schedule.

Next week is a matchup against Air Force, who still holds onto the number 1 position in the conference. But, Air Force has looked vulnerable lately, decisively losing to both Army and Hawai'i in the past 2 weeks. What seemed like a sure loss for UNLV earlier in the season is now a very winnable game for UNLV. UNLV's rush defense is one of the team's strengths, and Air Force almost exclusively runs the Flexbone Triple Option.

If UNLV can beat Air Force on the road, it will move UNLV up to the number 1 spot in the conference and give UNLV a tie-breaker against Air Force for home field advantage in the Mountain West Championship. In fact, if UNLV beats Air Force, I think the only way they could be eliminated from the Conference Championship is if they lose to San Jose State, and also Fresno State wins its last 2 games. Fresno's last 2 games are against New Mexico and San Diego State, and both are very winnable games for Fresno.

San Jose is a bit of a surprise contender themselves, having won 4 straight against New Mexico, Utah State, Hawai'i, and Fresno. A win against UNLV in the final week of the regular season could potentially give San Jose a conference championship birth. Suddenly, the matchup against San Jose is actually looking even more worrisome than the matchup against Air Force.

These upcoming games against Air Force and San Jose are going to be among the most important games in UNLV's football history, and will certainly be the biggest games of head coach Barry Odom's inaugural year with UNLV.

I'm hoping to be able to see UNLV host a Mountain West Conference Championship at Allegiant Stadium!

If UNLV makes a conference championship appearance, I fully intend to attend the game. I honestly never expected to see UNLV competing for a conference championship in my lifetime, so whether it be here at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, or at Colorado Springs, Fresno, Boise, or San Jose, I intend to be there.

I'll also be tentatively planning on attending any bowl game that UNLV gets invited to, so long as the trip is affordable. If UNLV goes to the Hawai'i Bowl, I might not be able to afford tickets, since I was stuck having to pay for some expensive home repairs due to storm damage that insurance refused to cover (thank you, climate change!), and then also bought a new gaming PC so that I can play Cities: Skylines II. So I may not have the disposable cash on hand right now to afford plane tickets to Hawai'i. Hopefully UNLV gets an invite to a bowl here in the contiguous states, such that a much less-expensive road trip is viable.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I suspected that UNLV's football team would have to crash back to reality at some point. Last wee, the team and its fans were flying high after a comeback win against Colorado State made UNLV bowl-eligible midway through the season, had them receiving votes for national Top 25 ranking, and had them looking like a contender for a Mountain West Conference Championship. UNLV has played like a championship-caliber football team all season long, with the exception of one quarter against Fresno State last night. That one quarter may be the quarter that costs UNLV a chance at the championship.

I did say that the remainder of UNLV's schedule would contain its toughest matchups of the season, and Fresno was one of the toughest. They also still have Wyoming and Air Force as major roadblocks on their remaining schedule. I expected that UNLV would drop at least one of these games, but it's heartbreaking to lose it in the way that they did.

UNLV is now ranked 3rd in the Mountain West behind Fresno State.

UNLV was in total control of the game at Fresno State, with the exception of a dismal 3rd quarter in which they turned the ball over multiple times, gave up 24 un-answered points, and surrendered the lead that they would never take back.

The collapse began on the opening drive of the 2nd half, with Jacob de Jesus muffing a punt return after a Fresno 3 and out. This gave Fresno State the ball in the redzone for an easy touchdown and completely shifted the momentum of the game. Junior return man de Jesus had been a reliable, explosive player all year, and this mistake was uncharacteristic of him. Later in the quarter, freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava threw an interception that resulted in another Fresno field goal, and running back Jai'Den Thomas surrendered a fumble on UNLV's next offensive play from scrimmage that Fresno converted into the lead-stealing touchdown. Personally, I think he was down by contact (of course), but the camera angles were inconclusive and insufficient to overturn the officials' call on the field.

The 3rd quarter collapse started with Jacob de Jesus muffing a punt.

UNLV would surge in the 4th quarter, however and bring the game to within a single score. However, they failed to convert a 4th and goal late in the 4th quarter. Personally, I think that coach Barry Odom should have kicked the field goal at this point. There was still 5 minutes on the game clock, UNLV had timeouts, and UNLV had clawed back the momentum. This was not a do-or-die situation. A field goal would not have tied the game, let alone taken the lead, but UNLV's defense would have to make a stop regardless. A field goal would have meant that if UNLV stopped Fresno and took the ball back, they would be playing for the win instead of overtime.

The decision ended up being moot anyway, as UNLV failed to score a touchdown in the closing seconds of the game. They had an opportunity, but senior receiver Senika McKie dropped an open pass in the endzone on 2nd down, and Maiava would throw an interception straight to a lurking linebacker on the ensuing 3rd and goal.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

UNLV's decision to fire Marcus Arroyo and replace him with Barry Odom as the football head coach has certainly proven to be a good decision. I was afraid that the unexpected firing would result in UNLV having to reset its year-to-year improvements under Arroyo and start over as a bottom-dweller in the conference. That hasn't been the case. UNLV has continued its upwards climb and has exceeded all possible expectations in 2023, culminating with a 25-23 comeback win against Colorado State yesterday. That win gave UNLV its 6th win of the season, which makes them bowl-eligible -- and it's only halfway through the season!

I fully expect UNLV's kicker Jose Pizano to receive Mountain West special teams Player of the Week honors this week. The senior transfer set a school record by hitting on all 6 field goal attempts, including the game-winner. He has been fantastic all year. I thought it would be hard to fill the shoes of Daniel Gutierrez, who graduated last year, but Pizano has done the job admirably.

UNLV has impressed me with its hard play for the past 2 or 3 years under Arroyo, but the team is playing with a greater intensity under Odom. What has truly impressed me is that the defense is actually halfway decent. For many years, UNLV has been hiring offensive-minded head coaches, with the goal of having exciting, high-scoring offenses. The problem has been that even when UNLV has had offenses that score 30 or more points per game, they've had defenses that give up 40 or 50.

UNLV football - Jose Pizano
Photo credit: Madeline Carter (Las Vegas Review Journal).
Jose Pizano deserve Mountain West Player of the Week honors
after setting a school record and hitting a game-winning field goal.

The biggest weakness has been UNLV's deep pass coverage. Teams routinely torch UNLV for deep passes and scores. That, unfortunately is still mostly true. If UNLV is going to get beat, it's with the deep ball. Honestly, I don't know why opposing teams even bother running any plays other than deep passes. I feel a team could run 4 or 5 verts every play, and would hit enough of them that it wouldn't matter how many end up incomplete. But overall, the defense being competent has actually been the biggest surprise of the year, to me. But UNLV's run defense has been more than adequate, and they've managed to get pressure with 4-man rushes that have helped defenses contain opponents' short and intermediate pass games.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

2022 was an unusually disappointing season for UNLV football. Every year is a disappointing season for UNLV, but the hot 4-1 start gave us fans and alumni actual hope that UNLV could be a contender in the Mountain West. Then injuries happened, and UNLV only won a single game in the second half of the season to close out with a 5 and 7 record.

After blowout losses to San Jose State and Air Force while starting quarterback Doug Brumfield (and several wide receivers and defensive leaders) sat out with injury, an embarrassing loss to a 2-win Hawai'i team in the penultimate game that guaranteed a losing season and no bowl game, and barely pulling off a last-second win against a 2-win Nevada team, UNLV's athletic director decided to fire head coach Marcus Arroyo after only 3 seasons. The decision is understandable, even if a bit sudden. Completely blundering the second half of the season after such a hot start is bad. Losing that must-win game against Hawai'i (one of the worst teams in the conference) was inexcusable. I get why the new athletic director decided to fire Arroyo.

I get it. But I don't really agree with it.

Marcus Arroyo
Photo credit: Steel Brooks, LV Review Journal.
Marcus Arroyo has not had much success as UNLV's head coach, but does he deserve to be fired?

Competitive losses

Yeah, this season ended in disappointment, but Arroyo's team has seen steady and consistent improvement in its 3 years. I, personally, don't hold the COVID-shortened 2020 season against Arroyo. He was coming into a tough position. A former offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience coming into a pandemic situation in his first year with a perennial losing team. Business closures prevented the team from holding many of the normal training activities. Yeah sure, every team around the country was dealing with COVID as well, but only a handful of them were doing so with a brand new coaching staff, which made Arroyo and UNLV's position particularly disadvantaged.

2021 showed incremental progress, in terms of win-loss record, with UNLV only winning 2 games. But that 2021 UNLV team (which started out 0-6, by the way), was surprisingly competitive in almost all of its losses, which lead me to call them "the best 0-6 team that I've ever seen". Many of those losses in 2021 were by a single score, with UNLV playing competitive football well into the 4th quarter. That was impressive considering that I was used to seeing previous UNLV teams come out completely flat to start the second half, and only get worse as the games would progress into the 4th quarter. They weren't winning, but Arroyo had his players playing! Every. Single. Game. And that was something that I hadn't really seen before.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Last year, I said that UNLV was the best 0-6 football team I had ever seen. Well this year, in 2022, the team has finally turned that competitive spirit into actual wins, and UNLV's football team has earned its first 3-1 start of the current century. Considering that the Mountain West isn't quite as strong of a conference as it has been in years past, this UNLV team might even have a chance at contending for the conference title if they keep playing like they are currently. Boise State and San Diego State aren't the dominant teams that they used to be, and UNLV just closed out a convincing 2-score victory at the home of the defending conference champs, Utah State.

I almost can't believe I'm saying this, but UNLV actually looks good!

Most of the success lies on the arm and legs of sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield. Brumfield showed flashes of promise last year, but was plagued with injuries. He has absolutely taken over the offense this season as the unquestioned starter. He has been throwing pinpoint-accurate passes down the field, and is making mostly smart decisions with the football. So far, he has only thrown a single interception, which happened to be in UNLV's only loss so far this season. When there's no one open downfield, Brumfield has been good about checking down to underneath receivers or taking off and running (he has 4 running touchdowns to go along with his 8 passing TDs). He isn't forcing balls into coverage and sabotaging scoring opportunities with avoidable turnovers.

Doug Brumfield
Photo credit: Lucas Peltier, UNLV Athletics.
Sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield has been playing mistake-free football.

Though Brumfield has been a big part of UNLV's success, it isn't all him. In general, the offense has been moving pretty well. Discounting the loss to Cal, this offense has been putting up an average of 48 points per game. Part of that production has been on the ground with redshirt junior running back Aidan Robbins carrying the bulk of the load in the rushing attack. He has big shoes to fill after years of Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams cutting through and barreling over opposing defenses.

Robbins has been adequate so far as a substitute for Charles Williams. His stats on the season look really good, with over 400 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns in 4 games. But half of those yards came from a standout performance against North Texas, in which Robbins rushed for over 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. Robbins has been sharing carries with change-of-pace back Courtney Reese, who has had some explosive plays, but not scores yet.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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