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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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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