In the lead-up to UNLV’s Mountain West opener, head coach Marcus Arroyo understood the job at hand against defending conference champions Utah State.
“They beat us last year,” Arroyo said during his Monday press conference. “We got our hands full on the road. We gotta go up there and handle business.”
UNLV did just that in a 34-24 victory over Utah State Saturday in Logan, Utah. The Rebels are 3-1 for the first time since 2008, which is also the last time they beat the Aggies.
The Rebel defense forced six turnovers, including five interceptions.
Sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield completed 21 of 31 passes for 217 yards, a passing touchdown, and two rushing touchdowns.
While Arroyo admitted the Rebels had some things to clean up, he was impressed with how his team performed on the road.
“The program has come a long way to win a game like that while playing imperfectly and that’s exciting,” Arroyo told reporters on site after the game.
UNLV and Utah State combined for three straight punts on their first three possessions, with only one first down from either team.
Utah State’s second possession would result in the first points on the board for either team. UNLV initially held Utah State to a field goal on fourth-and-5, but a roughing the kicker call would give Utah State a fresh set of downs. Utah State capitalized with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Justin McGriff, their first offensive touchdown in two games.
UNLV responded with an eight-play, 89-yard drive that ended in a 4-yard rushing touchdown by Brumfield. The drive was highlighted by a 40-yard pass to junior wide receiver Kyle Williams, which was followed up with a 27-yard completion to senior transfer wide receiver Jeff Weimer two plays later.
Utah State’s next possession stalled as they elected to punt. On the punt, Aggies’ punter Stephen Kotsanlee’s knee was down before the punt, giving UNLV the ball at the 3-yard line, setting up a Brumfield 1-yard rushing TD.
Brumfield threw his only passing touchdown of the night on a 6-yard TD to Kyle Williams following a three-and-out for Utah State, ending an eight-play, 62-yard drive.
Utah State’s next possession ended with Logan Bonner throwing his first of five interceptions on the night. UNLV forced five interceptions on the day, their most since 1992. Arroyo seemed pleased with his defense.
“They were challenged today,” Arroyo said postgame in an interview with Learfield Sports. “To be able to create that as a team is huge.”
UNLV was unable to capitalize on that momentum, giving up a safety on their blocked fourth-and-27 punt.
UNLV’s Austin Ajiake, who led the Rebels with 11 total tackles, received Bonner’s second interception on Utah State’s possession following the safety. Ajiake’s interception set up a 23-yard field goal for Daniel Gutierrez.
Utah State answered with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Bonner throwing a 10-yard TD to Terrell Vaughn, his first of the season. Bonner’s 44-yard completion to Brian Cobbs on second-and-9 put them in the red zone.
UNLV finished off the half with another Gutierrez kick, this time from 26-yards out to finish the half up 27-16.
Utah State’s first possession coming out of halftime ended in an unconverted fourth-and-3. UNLV’s offense carried that momentum on an 11-play, 57-yard drive which ended in a 6-yard Aidan Robbins rushing TD. That concluded UNLV’s scoring on the night.
Utah State’s offense was intercepted once again, this time by Cameron Oliver on first-and-10. UNLV’s punting unit sent it back to Utah State to set up the fourth quarter.
Utah State’s offense drove down the field on a 12-play, 86-yard drive before being stopped short on fourth-and-3 at UNLV’s 10-yard line.
Following another UNLV punt, Bonner would complete his third touchdown on a 39-yard completion to Terrell Vaughn, completing a four-play, 47-yard drive. A successful two-point conversion cut UNLV’s lead to 10.
UNLV experienced more offensive struggles as a three-and-out would give Utah State the ball with just over five minutes remaining. Utah State’s offense completed multiple passes to set up second-and-10 on UNLV’s 41-yard line.
What looked like a promising drive was upended by senior defensive lineman Adam Plant Jr.’s strip-sack which sealed UNLV’s victory.
For Arroyo, who is in his third season as the Rebels’ coach, the win brings enthusiasm to the direction of the program as the season wears on.
“This was a true test,” Arroyo said to Learfield Sports post-game. “To be able to battle, fight, grind and do some things that contribute to really good football is just so good to see on the road.”
The Rebels (3-1) come home to Allegiant Stadium to play their first home Mountain West Conference game against the New Mexico Lobos (2-2) Friday at 8 p.m.