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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.

The most exciting thing is that Brumfield is just a freshman! If he keeps playing like that, and gets better over the years, then UNLV might finally be looking at some decent quarterback play. In the meantime, Doug Brumfield should absolutely be the starting quarterback for UNLV going forward. I don't care how well Rogers or Brumfield perform in practices, Brumfield proved that he deserves the job with his performance on the field.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to help much this year. Eastern Washington, being a division II school, is probably the easiest competition that UNLV will face this year. Their next two games are at Arizona State and then home against an Iowa State team that is going into the season ranked number 7 in the country. Those games won't be pretty. And the conference schedule is no joke either. UTSA, Utah State, and San Jose State are winnable games, but I won't be putting money on UNLV to pull them off -- not unless they show me something really impressive in the meantime. But the rest of the conference schedule will likely outmatch UNLV, especially if their defense plays as bad as they did against Eastern Washington.

Defensive collapses have always been this team's problem!

Eastern Washington at UNLV - defense
Photo credit: Associated Press.
Oh look, another loss due to a late defensive collapse.

Despite the poor play from Rogers, the real culprit in UNLV's loss was a defensive collapse in the fourth quarter and overtime. Typical Rebels. The QB problems were fixed midway through the third with the substitution from Rogers to Brumfield, but the defense only got worse as the game went on.

This might have been due largely to UNLV losing their best defensive back, Nohl Williams, to a questionable targeting penalty and disqualification in the first quarter. I may be biased, but it looked like a clean, legal hit to me. It looked to me like Williams kept his head up, lead with his shoulder, and hit the receiver square in the chest. Yet the booth reviewed it and upheld both the penalty and the disqualification.

Anyway, this ejection hurt, and may ultimately have cost the Rebels the game, and the secondary looked confused and left receivers open for repeated deep balls and scores late in the game and in overtime. Had the starting cornerback been in the field, maybe those receivers wouldn't have gotten so open, or maybe Williams would have put himself in better position to defend the passes than the backups who replaced him did. But that wasn't the case.

The offensive explosion from UNLV behind the arm of Doug Brumfield, and 3 missed field goals from Eastern Washington's kicker were not enough to secure the comeback victory for the Rebels, as the defense blew it.

This loss only reinforces something that I've been saying for years. UNLV's athletic directors keep looking for offensive-minded coaches who run exotic or new-fangled schemes. They think that if the offense can score 30 points per game, that UNLV will suddenly be competitive and win more games. But I don't care if the offense scores 30 points per game because the defense is giving up 40 or 50. Looking for offensive-minded head coaches is, I think, the wrong approach for this school. They should be looking for a defensive-minded head coach who will teach discipline and fundamentals. If the defense can hold opponents to 20 points or less, and the offense only needs to score 3 or 4 times to win a game, then I think this team will see more success. See San Diego State for a case in point.

Besides, UNLV doesn't have the talent to run exotic spread offenses full of gadget plays and complicated schemes. Get them executing the fundamentals first, on the field against live competition, then work on the exotic stuff. Some of the best plays of the night were when the offense was asked to hand off to Charles Williams with simple zone blocking plays. He scored a late-game TD on one such play, completely untouched, from about 20 yards out. Complement that with some play-action shots down the field, and maybe -- just maybe -- this offense can be successful. But they'll only be as successful as the ability of the defense to make a stop when needed. And until the defense can manage to not collapse in the fourth quarter, UNLV will continue to lose.

Also, I really do not care for the all-black uniforms. Give me the old-fashioned scarlet and gray any week.

My first visit to Allegiant Stadium was yet another disappointing and embarrassing defeat.

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