The Bryant Bulldogs football team is traveling from its home state, Rhode Island, to play its first game of the season against the UNLV Rebels on Sep. 2. The Bulldogs are a division 1 FCS team, in the Big South conference and are coming off of a 4-7 season.
The UNLV Scarlet & Gray Free Press reached out to Bill Koch, a sports writer for the Providence Journal who also covers the Red Sox and College Hoops, to get a more in-depth look at the visiting team.
The Bulldogs head coach Chris Merrit is going into his fifth season with the team. “If you can recast Friday Night Lights and have a traditional, old school no thrill football coach he’s that guy,” Koch said. “All the way down to the shaved head to the goatee.”
Bryant’s offense is known for its traditional playing style. The traditional playing style means that Bryant will have an almost equal split of running and passing plays throughout the game. Koch compared Bryant’s traditional offense to an “80’s 90’s NFL offense.”
“[Bryant] won’t get to the point where they spread it out and throw it every down. They are also not going to get to the point where they are like the service academies running the ball every down,” Koch said. “They try to cut it right down the middle, super traditional style.”
The signal caller for Bryant’s traditional offense is junior quarterback Zevi Eckhaus. He was recruited out of Culver City High School in Southern California. Bryant was able to recruit him from the West Coast to Rhode Island because of playing time.
The 6 foot 1 inch, 205-pounder is going into his second year as the starting quarterback for the team but technically has been the team’s main quarterback for all three seasons. Gage Moloney was supposed to be the starting quarterback but hurt his foot in the second quarter of the first game of the season. Eckhaus stepped in to earn the spot for the rest of the season.
Eckhaus is a traditional quarterback who also has the ability to get outside. He is known for his field vision and his ability to score clutch points.
“He is not a statue but is a passer and if he needs to he will take it out and run but only once or twice,” Koch said.
According to Koch, Eckhaus is the best offensive player that Bryant has and it is a surprise that he has not been picked up by a FBS school as of yet.
A wide receiver returning senior Landon Ruggieri led the team in receiving yards 986 and touchdowns with six in the 2022-2023 campaign. Ruggieri looks to carry the momentum with Eckhaus into this season.
Bryant’s going into this upcoming game against UNLV without a defined running back. An open position that plays a crucial part in the team, will be filled by multiple backs.
The team’s defense took a big hit when it lost two of its primary linebackers. Without Joe Andreessen and Ryan Saddler, Koch is uncertain how the Bulldogs defense will look in 2023 including how they will line up.
They got comfortable playing a 3-4 last year, but this year the team is predicted to run a 4-3 defense. “This year with them out it might, they might play some 4-3,” Koch said. “It might be a numbers game.”
Koch pointed out Kenny Dyson Jr. at the defensive end as a strong part of the defense and as a player who can make a conference team.
Bryant has an accurate kicker with Ethan Gettman and Anthony Fredrick as part of the special teams. Anthony Fredrick is a preseason watch-list punt and kick returner.
“Their special teams are pretty good,” Koch said. “They can work in the margins a little bit with special teams.”
How playing against Bryant benefits UNLV
Bryant vs. the FBS schools gives Bryant great opportunities to not only make money for its sports program but to also practice against schools who are performing at a different level.
This gives the Bulldogs experience on the field and room to build confidence and the ability to raise the paychecks of the coaching staff. They had a similar game situation with Florida International, where it almost won and took the game into overtime.
Playing West Coast FBS games is an advantage for recruiting players from out west because playing at least one game a year is close to home.
How playing against UNLV benefits Bryant
This upcoming Bryant game is a great opportunity for UNLV to prepare for its upcoming game against Michigan on the road.
The game against Bryant will help the Rebels to get the game film and will help get some kinks out and warm up for the rest of the football season they have ahead.
The Rebels will be playing against the University of Michigan on Sep. 9 at the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.