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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