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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.

To make matters worse, the inability to move the ball in the air, allowed San Diego State to aggressively play the run. Historically, UNLV has been a better running team than a passing team, but Arroyo's team was unable to get its running game going against San Diego State. The failure to establish a running game is a second major red flag against Arroyo's coaching and play-calling in this young season. I expect to see him get a bit more creative in the running game over the coming weeks.

Mountain West took my recommendation and scheduled
the UNLV-Nevada game during Nevada Day weekend.

I didn't get to watch the Nevada game live. My dad and I usually have season home tickets for UNLV football games, and we were looking forward to seeing games at the new Allegiant Stadium. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures at the stadium, UNLV allowed us to defer our season tickets to next year. So we won't be seeing the home games in person this year, but we do want to watch the games on TV whenever we can. I wasn't able this weekend due to Halloween festivities with a few friends and family, but I did check out the highlights the next day.

To be fair to Marcus Arroyo, the first attempt at another receiver screen went to a slot receiver off of a run fake (might have been a designed run-pass option?) for 12 yards and a first down. So I'm not saying that he should give up on this particular play concept; only that he needs to be more creative in his play-calling so that the defenses aren't keying off of it. This seemed to be the case based on the limited highlights that I saw, as UNLV converted more passes in the short and medium range, including converting a 4th and 4 down the field to close out the first quarter.

Arroyo was much more creative in his play-calling this weekend, and the offense was much better at executing them. They scored a touchdown in the second quarter off of a receiver motioning across the field and sneaking into the flats uncovered. They also executed a pretty double pass off of a slot receiver screen look in the 3rd quarter that helped set the team up on Nevada's side of the field. In summary, the offense looked competent against Nevada.

The big problem against Nevada was (no surprise) the defense. The defense allowed Nevada to average 9 yards per play, and gave up numerous deep passes over the top in the first half. This has been a problem for UNLV for many, many years. An ineffective pass rush gives opponent quarterbacks too much time to let routes develop down the field, and our defensive backs just are never able to keep up with the receivers. The poor play in the secondary usually leaves UNLV's coaches wary of calling blitzes because it gives receivers more openings.

But it was really Nevada's running game that iced the game for Nevada, as UNLV gave up numerous huge runs in the second half. the defensive line failed to fill gaps, and missed tackles by the second wave let Nevada gash UNLV over and over again. A leaky run defense has been another big problem for UNLV over the years.

These defensive woes are a big reason why I had hoped that UNLV would hire a defensive-minded head coach. Again, I'm not going to condemn Marcus Arroyo after just 2 games, especially not in this mess of a year. I've seen some worrying signs, but I also saw marked improvement between the two games. We'll see how (or if) the team continues to improve over the coming weeks.

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