University of Nevada, Las Vegas

It's really weird to feel good about a team that is 0-6 on the season, but that is kind of how I feel about this 2021 UNLV football team. Their latest loss is a 4th quarter collapse against Utah State by a score of 28-24. UNLV seemed in control throughout almost the entire game until the 4th quarter. The offense was moving the ball with Charles Williams putting up over 200 yards rushing, and backup QB Cameron Friel was looking good -- up until about midway through the third quarter, when Utah State's defense tightened up, started keying entirely on the run, and UNLV couldn't move the ball. In the meantime, Utah State pivoted their offense more towards the run, and even though UNLV's defense had been stout against the run earlier in the game, they suddenly started giving up big plays on the ground.

I thought for sure that a Utah State comeback would be through the air. UNLV's zone defense had huge gaps between the linebackers and safeties, and Utah State's receivers were finding those soft spots all throughout the first half. UNLV either needed to soften their zone coverages, and let Utah State have the underneath throws, or they needed to switch to more man coverage. But I didn't really get to see whether either of those adjustments would make a difference, since Utah State focused so heavily on the run in the second half.

Utah State rushing TD
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
UNLV had stuffed the run the entire first half, but Utah State powered through to win in the 4th.

This is the fourth game this season that UNLV has lost by one score, and the fifth game in which they've covered the point spread. Two of those games were against ranked opponents. Despite not having won a single game yet this year, this UNLV team is not getting blown out in the way that they have in years' past. I'm used to seeing scores like 45-20, in which the game is over by the start of the 4th quarter. This year though, UNLV has had a chance to win the game right up to the final drive. Despite the winless record, this feels like an improvement.

This leaves me in the confusing and frustrating position of wondering whether this 0-6 UNLV team is actually "good" -- or at least better than their 0-6 record would indicate.

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UNLV logo

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented me from going to the UNLV home football games in their first year at the new Allegiant Stadium. But being vaccinated, I am planning on attending this year, and did go to the home opener this week. It was yet another embarassing disappointment. Worse yet, I suspected it would be, and I wanted to bet on Eastern Washington to win the game, but the stupid sportsbook wasn't taking any action on the game. I guess they don't trust UNLV's football team any more than I do.

The offense was completely unable to move the ball in the first half, due largely to completely incompetent play from starting quarterback, Justin Rogers (transfer from TCU). Right off the bat, coach Arroyo dialed up some vert routes and got the two-on-one matchup against the safety that he and Rogers wanted, Rogers saw it, but his pass was low and inside, instead of high and away from the defender. It wasn't intercepted, but it might was well have been because the team couldn't get a first down anyway.

This happened several more times throughout the first half. And when Rogers wasn't failing to throw the ball deep, he was throwing gutterballs to the feet of his open underneath receivers. I don't know if this was a case of the jitters or what, but Rogers clearly did not have his head in the game. The receivers were clearly frustrated. So were the fans. But apparently, coach Arroyo wasn't because Rogers started the second half as well, and didn't play any better.

I don't know why it took so long for coach Arroyo to recognize that his starting quarterback was incapable of running the offense, and why it took him so long to put in the backup. I probably would have switched to the backup in the second quarter. I was willing to give Arroyo a lot of slack last year because COVID threw a wrench in everything in 2020, but there's no more excuses this year. That inability to recognize the need to make a change is a real concerning red flag for Arroyo's future as head coach.

I was also concerned with Arroyo's insistence on continually calling screen passes to wide receivers, even though Eastern Washington was clearly prepared for them and jumped every one of them for a loss or short gain. Yet he still played soft coverage against Eastern Washington running those same screens for large chunks of yards all night. His play-calling also didn't help the struggling Rogers, as Arroyo repeatedly called deep shot plays without any underneath checkdowns for Rogers to fall back on if the play didn't break downfield. It may only be his second year, but Arroyo is already on thin ice as far as I'm concerned.

Eastern Washington at UNLV - Justin Rogers
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
Eastern Washington at UNLV - Doug Brumfield
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
Justin Rogers was inept at quarterback and had to be replaced with the dazzling Doug Brumfield.

When Rogers was finally pulled midway through the third quarter, backup Doug Brumfeild looked brilliant and almost single-handedly saved the game for the Rebels. He threw up one prayer ball to double coverage in the endzone on a third and, like, 30. There were two receivers uncovered underneath. They wouldn't have gotten a first down, but they at least would have made the field goal attempt easier. The kicker (who was probably UNLV's co-MVP) made the kick anyway, so I guess it's moot, but I felt like that prayer ball was Brumfield's only legit bad decision the entire game. Other than that, he was damn near perfect. Every pass he threw was right into the receivers' hands. It's just too bad that the receivers had trouble reeling in the laser beams he was throwing, and dropped several passes, including a couple third down ones. One pass even went off the hands of a receiver and right into the hands of a waiting safety.

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Over the past year and some change, football video game fans have had some huge pieces of good news. Last year, 2K announced that it would be returning to the NFL-licensed football game market; albeit with a "non-simulation" licensed game -- and we still have no clue what that is going to entail. Earlier this year, EA announced that it would be resurrecting its college football series under the apt banner "EA Sports College Football".

For years, there were no football games at all except for Madden, so the boom of indie football games starting around 2018 / 2019 created a little renaissance of competing products looking to fill the vaccum left by the absence of competition and lack of niche titles like a college football games. As good as the news of new games from 2K and EA is, one thing that worried me was whether or not the indie football games (Axis Football, Maximum Football, Sunday Rivals, Legend Bowl, and so forth) would survive the impending release of new, big-budget football games entering the market. Well, the first indie casualty of the AAA announcements came on Wednesday night.

David Winter, the founder, owner, and lead developer of Canuck Games announced Wednesday night over Discord that plans for future versions of Maximum Football have been canceled, and the company Canuck Play is terminating its business operations. Apparently, Winter is offering the Maximum Football IP (and I think also the game code) up for sale. It's possible that another studio may purchase rights to Maximum Football and resume development, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that any new Maximum Football games will be coming out.

David Winter, owner of Canuck Play, announced the cancellation of Maximum Football and closure of the studio.

In his announcement, Winter cited several factors in the decision. Perhaps the most important one is his own health. He had been working himself 7 days a week for lengthy periods of time, and said that he had to be hospitalized for stress and fatigue. I'm a huge supporter of a stable and healthy work / life balance, and no job is (in my opinion) worth working yourself sick; least of all a video game. I certainly can't fault him for his decision, and I, personally, probably would have thrown in the towel a lot sooner if I had been in his shoes. Take care of yourself, David. Your health (both physical and mental) comes first.

Winter also cited EA's announcement of its upcoming college football game as a major contributing factor in the decision. In 2019, Maximum Football rebranded itself from being a Canadian football game to being a college football game, with the introduction of a college Dynasty mode. Personally, I always thought that this was a bad move. I understood it as a business decision at the time, as there was huge desire for a college football game, and nobody was filling that market demand. However, this move shifted Maximum Football away from its core identity as a Canadian football game, broadened the scope well beyond the ability of such a tiny group of developers to reasonably handle, and introduced a massive set of new challenges for the developers to overcome. I always feared that as soon as a bigger studio came along with a more polished college football product (whether it be EA, 2K, or even IMV with its crowd-funded Gridiron Champions that never saw the light of day), then Maximum Football would be kind of dead in the water. I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, but I figured it was an inevitability.

Maximum Football moved away from its Canadian football roots.

If another company does actually buy Maximum Football, I hope its another Canadian studio, and that they re-focus the game as a Canadian football sim. Doubling-down on its Canadian identity would give the game a unique selling point, would fill an otherwise vacant niche, would expose a larger audience to Canadian football, and might provide a consistent base of support from existing Canadian football fans. That doesn't mean they would have to abandon the college dynasty. They can still include a Canadian college dynasty if they want. Rather, I think they should focus on having a robust, quality game using Canadian rules first, before branching out to extensive U.S. pro and college rules and modes.

XFL logo

Nevertheless, it looks like we'll have to go through 2021 and 2022 without a Canadian or college football game to speak of while we wait to see what EA has to offer when EA Sports College Football releases in 2023. Or who knows? Maybe Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will buy Maximum Football and turn it into an XFL-licensed game? Hey, that's as realistic a possibility as him buying the XFL!

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Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they sure as heck haven't been making a simulation football game since at least 2011). Other companies were apparently free to purchase an NFL license for "non-simulation" football games, and last year 2K announced that they would, in fact, begin production on one (or more) NFL-licensed arcade games. It wasn't the triumphant return of ESPN NFL 2k that we had been waiting 17 years for, but we'll take it!

EA is [finally] returning to college football games!

Well yesterday, we got another bombshell announcement. EA will be producing a college football video game. Currently, EA does not have the NCAA license or the rights to player likenesses, so the game is to be titled "EA Sports College Football", instead of continuing with the NCAA Football moniker of past. However, EA does have the rights to "over one hundred" schools. There's 130 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, so a team count of over 100 implies that most, if not all, D-I FBS schools will be present, with their respective logos, uniforms, stadiums, and so forth. My understanding is that EA also does not have the rights to the conference names, so in addition to making up randomized rosters, they will also have to make fake conferences for the schools. I haven't seen anything yet that clarifies whether EA will have rights to bowl games or the College Football Playoffs and Championship. But this game is still 2 or 3 years out from releasing, so a lot can change in the meantime!

EA could bypass the NCAA and secure the rights to player likenesses, but they've opted not to do so. It's a shame, but I do understand that without a single players' union (like the NFL Player's Association for the pros), securing the rights to hundreds or thousands of player names and likenesses individually would be a huge logistical and legal nightmare. I would also have to assume that if EA is not pursuing player likeness rights, then they probably won't include the easy roster customization and sharing features of NCAA 13 and 14, as that would likely land them in the same exact legal troubles that caused the series to get canceled in the first place. I would prefer if EA could use player likenesses and pay the athletes royalties from game sales, especially since that would stick it to the NCAA, which for so long denied college athletes the ability to get paid while simultaneously cashing in on those same athlete's names and performances. Since it didn't license its brand, the NCAA will not be getting any money from this game (as of the time of this writing).

Team and player customization is what caused the cancelation of NCAA Football to begin with,
so I doubt that such features would return in EA Sports College Football.

EA Sports College Football will not be releasing in 2021. A 2022 release is possible, but unlikely. So we'll probably have to wait until the fall of 2023 to see what EA will be offering up for this game, and if it will live up to the standard set by NCAA Football 13 and NCAA Football 14. The fact that the game will not have the NCAA license, conferences, or team names will likely put the new game at an immediate disadvantage, since it won't have those real-world images and names to lean on.

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UNLV Running Rebels logo

The Raiders may have already played home games in Allegiant Stadium, starting with a victory on a Monday night against the Saints on September 21. But the Raiders have so far played without any fans in the stands. Allegiant Stadium opened its doors to the first fans this weekend when the Nevada Wolfpack came to town to play the UNLV Rebels football team.

Back in the summer, the Mountain West conference had announced the postponement of the football season until next spring. For a while, it seemed like UNLV would not be the team to open up Allegiant Stadium after all. However, after the NFL, SEC, and a couple other college football conferences began play in September with strict social distancing protocols in effect and a [thankfully] relatively low number of incidents, the Mountain West decided to reverse course and move play back up to the end of October. The Raiders may have played the first game there, but it was still UNLV who opened the stadium to fans.

Photo by: Isaac Brekken via Associated Press.
The Raiders played their first Las Vegas home game in an empty Allegiant Stadium.

Unfortunately, despite the new head coach and the new stadium, UNLV is still the same old Rebels. The team has been completely unable to produce offense in its first two games, gaining a measly total of 25 yards in the entire first half of the opening game against San Diego State, and finishing the game with only 6 points (due to a missed extra point), while also rotating between three different quarterbacks. Coach Marcus Arroyo seems to have settled on Max Gilliam as the starting quarterback going into the game against Nevada, and the offense performed better, putting up 348 total yards on offense and 19 points in a 37-19 loss.

Marcus Arroyo was the offensive coordinator for an explosive Oregon football team in 2019, so the hope was that he would bring that explosiveness to UNLV, allowing the team to keep up in offensive production and scoring with its high-powered Mountain West opponents. So far that has not panned out. The season is still young, and it's unclear if the disappointing start is due to Arroyo failing to live up to his promise, a lack of talent on the team, the disruptions of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (and lack of training camp and other team activities), or some combination of the above. I'm not going to condemn Arroyo after two games, least of all in this miserably, topsy-turvy year of 2020.

Photo by: Rudy Garcia via Las Vegas Sun.
UNLV was the first team to host fans at Allegiant Stadium.

That being said, I was not impressed with Arroyo's play-calling in that San Diego State game. He repeatedly called screen passes to wide receivers, despite San Diego State being on top of those plays each and every time. Either San Diego State knew those plays were coming and specifically prepared for them, or UNLV's offense telegraphed them far too clearly for them to work. The fact that Arroyo kept calling them, and didn't have some counter play prepared in case they didn't work made me worried about how he's scheming this offense. With San Diego driving on those screens every time, I would have liked to have seen an early pump fake to the screen, followed by a deep shot down the field. This would either catch the defense overreacting to the screen, or to force the defense to have to play back a bit and give those screens a bit more room to breath. I don't recall seeing such a play call in that game.

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