Offense stellar, defense stout in UNLV’s season opening win
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Head coach Marcus Arroyo may have gotten his all-around complete effort he has been looking for since coming to UNLV.
“You definitely feel better,” he said. “No one anticipated an 18-month pandemic, it just is what it is. You fight through it, you start recruiting and you start believing and breathing commitment into your group. “We’re over getting circled on a schedule. That’s over…that’s over.”
UNLV dominated in all phases of its season opening, 52-21, win over Idaho State Saturday, Aug. 27 from Allegiant Stadium. The late August kickoff marked the earliest in program history for the Rebels.
Arroyo opens his third year as the Rebels lead man with a 1-0 record and the team’s first win in a season opener since 2019. The win also cuts last year’s team’s win total in half while moving to 2-8 all-time on its new home field.
A true road game looms next for UNLV as it prepares to travel to California for a matchup with the Golden Bears, Saturday, Sept. 10.
“It’s going to be imperfect in those early weeks,” Arroyo said. “We celebrated the good stuff, man. It’s hard to win football games, it’s a game of mistakes. And who makes less, who adjusts better, who can work through certain adjustments and I think we did a good job.”
Replacing all-time leading rusher, Charles Williams, won’t be easy but the road to do so began with new starter Aidan Robbins, who rushed for two first half touchdowns.
Robbins was the opening drive’s workhorse, rushing for 22 yards on seven carries capped by a one-yard touchdown. His second came on the first drive of the second quarter, this time from two yards out.
In fact, Robbins scored a third touchdown in the first half with his final coming through the air from starting quarterback Doug Brumfield.
Last season, Brumfield completed 44% of his passes, throwing for 320 yards, two touchdowns and an interception before being injured. “I saw it as an opportunity,” he said. “My hard work this offseason paid off. All the extra workouts we put in with our guys, all the extra film [time] we put in – it was just an opportunity to test our skills.”
At that point of the Robbins touchdown catch, Brumfield was up to 351 first half yards to go along with four touchdown passes.
Brumfield bounced back from an early near interception situation, finding transfer receiver Ricky White on consecutive plays for gains of 18 and 72 yards. The latter of which found the end zone for his first touchdown pass of the season.
“That’s what you want to see, right?” Arroyo said. “You want to see if it translates. If you can get to a Saturday when the lights come on for the first time, I mean, it’s the first game they’ve played together.”
White also caught Brumfield’s third touchdown of the first half on a 19-yard touchdown strike. He ended his first game as a Rebel with 182 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns, all of which came in the first half.
The offensive explosion came without much noise from junior receiver Kyle Williams who didn’t get his first catch of the game until more than midway through the second quarter.
But once he did touch the ball, he carved up the Bengals’ defense. His first touch went for 22 yards before a nine yard grab that would end up in the end zone after some help from the offensive line moving the pile.
Brumfield went 21-for-25, passing for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
“Very efficient,” Arroyo said. “I think the second-most efficient game in UNLV history.”
Tennessee transfer Harrison Bailey played in the second half with the first UNLV punt of the night coming on his first drive.
Bailey finished the game with 26 yards on 3-of-8 passing. He was also sacked three times.
Reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year and third-string quarterback Cameron Friel played some fourth quarter minutes. By the end of it, he picked up 23 yards and a touchdown on a perfect 2-for-2 passing.
After the game, Arroyo reiterated that Brumfield is the team’s starter moving forward.
For as well as the offense played, the defense held up its end of the bargain on the other side. Aside from being hit with a 55-yard deep bomb late in the first quarter, UNLV’s defense held Idaho State’s offense in check. The next Bengal score came about 27 minutes later with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
“It’s unreal,” senior linebacker AJ Ajiake said. “I’ve been here for a while and I haven’t played on a defense that was this together and this aggressive.”
In between, Ajiake made his presence felt. About midway through the first quarter, Ajiake read the screen pass perfectly resulting in the team’s first interception of the season. He returned the turnover 42 yards, down to the 30-yard line of Idaho State before celebrating on the sideline with the Rebels’ slot machine.
“I was gassed for sure at the end,” he said. “We kind of knew going in that they had a certain that they ran their screens. The way they block and the running backs releases so once I saw that I knew what to expect.”
Later in the game, Ajiake picked up a sack; one of the five sacks recorded by UNLV on the day. Defensive linemen Adam Plant Jr., Jalen Dixon, Naki Fahina and linebacker Isaiah Sayles also recorded sacks.
Special teams even made some highlight reel plays, blocking a punt late in the first half to set up the offense to take a 31-7 lead.
Sixth-year senior kicker Daniel Gutierrez went 1-for-1 on field goals on the day, in addition to 7-for-7 on PATs. He is now tied for fifth all-time with 38 made field goals in his career for the program.
Gutierrez also sent in six touchbacks on nine kickoffs after not recording a touchback since the 2017 season.