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UNLV passes first test in season opener against Bryant

Las Vegas running back Jai'Den Thomas rumbles through contact against Bryant from inside Allegiant Stadium. Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

On Saturday afternoon, the UNLV Rebels kicked off the Barry Odom era with a 44-14 win over the Bryant University Bulldogs from Allegiant Stadium.

The win marked just the sixth time a UNLV head coach won in his debut, with the last being College Football Hall-of-Famer John Robinson in 1999.

“Means a lot to me [and] to us to get to 1-0 today,” Odom said. “I wanted it so bad for this group to get started on the right foot.”

It didn’t take long for this iteration of UNLV football to find its scoring touch. On the first play from scrimmage senior transfer Vincent Davis Jr. ran for a 69-yard touchdown, setting the tone for the day.

“It was a play we felt good about going into it,” Odom said. “Executed at a high level and what a great run to finish to get in the end zone.”

After a defensive stop, the offense again went to work and utilized a short field to grab a 14-0 lead just over six minutes into the game. This time it was running back Jai’Den Thomas reaching the end zone with an 18-yard score.

Despite the rapid start, UNLV couldn’t maintain their pace for much of the remainder of the half.

Quarterback Doug Brumfield struggled to find a rhythm early, overthrowing two receivers on an ensuing red zone trip and throwing behind another on third down deep in his own territory.

After mustering a field goal to extend the lead to 17-0, the turning point of the game came late in the first half.

The UNLV defense was tested twice late in the half and stood tall both times.

First, they stymied a Bulldogs’ 4th and goal attempt on the one-yard line. Moments after, they were thrust into action again after Brumfield threw an interception on a tipped pass.

The Rebels defense forced a punt despite the drive starting in UNLV territory.

On the final drive of the half, the offense was able to repay the defense and they even bailed out their head coach in a big way.

After driving into the red zone, Odom declined to use his final timeout with a running clock with under 20 seconds left. By that time, the offense got to the line of scrimmage, there were only seven seconds remaining in the half.

Odom had cost them the chance of an extra play, but in the end, it didn't matter. On that final play, Brumfield used his legs to scramble for a 19-yard touchdown and give UNLV a 24-0 halftime lead.

“I thought Doug extended and really saved me for not using that timeout right before halftime,” Odom said. “By the grace of the man upstairs, he was able to score the touchdown and it made it not look like it was a huge error.”

When Bryant finally got on the board late in the third quarter, UNLV’s special teams stepped up and provided an immediate response.

Kick returner Jacob De Jesus took the ensuing kickoff back to the one-yard line and running back Donavyn Lester punched it into the end zone on the next play.

“It was perfectly executed by the players and coaches,” De Jesus said. “Everybody blocked really well, at the end of the day I’ve just got to get in the end zone.”

Overall the Rebels outgained the Bulldogs 158-95 on kick returns in half the attempts.

Combined with an average punt of 46.5 yards for Marshall Nicholls and a perfect day for kicker Jose Pizano, the special teams showed out in a big way for the Rebels in the opener.

“We spend so much time on special teams,” Odom said. “I think James Shibest is the best special teams coordinator in all of football and he gives our kids the tools to go play well and be impactful.”

The return seemingly put the nail in the coffin for Bryant, as they scored just one more time en route to a 30-point loss. In the loss, Bryant quarterback Zevi Eckhaus threw for 230 yards and ran for another 89 to lead the team.

Brumfield finished 11/18 for 86 yards through the air. He ran for 71 yards and one touchdown.

Though the numbers favored his counterpart, Brumfield left the field with a win, and while his coach was pleased with his playmaking, Brumfield knows he’ll need to play at a higher level.

“We left a lot out there, and I take full ownership of that,” Brumfield said. “The offense goes as I go, and as a captain and as a quarterback it’s my job to push the offense to the level we want to be at.”

The tune-up win for the Rebels comes before a difficult matchup against No. 2 Michigan next Saturday in Ann Arbor. The game begins at 12:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised on CBS.

Though the road just ahead may look bumpy, Odom is hopeful for what this program can become down the line.

“We can build this and we will build this into an elite program and an elite college football team in the city of Vegas,” Odom said. “I’m honored to have the chance to do that.”

For a program with a record of 36-80 with just one bowl game appearance in the last 10 years, fans are hoping Odom is finally the one to bring winning football back to UNLV.

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