All week, UNLV football head coach Marcus Arroyo and his players emphasized the importance of “starting fast” in their season opener.
Thirty minutes into the season, UNLV exploded for 45 points and held a commanding lead at halftime en route to a 52-21 victory over Idaho State in the Rebels’ season opener at Allegiant Stadium.
“It was very big to have the offense get that confidence and momentum going,” starting quarterback Doug Brumfield said, “A lot of games (last year) we weren’t able to do that. To come this year, week one, and execute like that was very big for us.”
UNLV scored on all seven of its drives in the first half. The Rebels would not punt until five minutes into the third quarter.
After an opening 11-play touchdown drive that included a third- and a fourth-down conversion, the Rebels’ offense was stopped only by the halftime whistle. UNLV outscored Idaho State 35-0 in the second quarter. The Rebels’ longest scoring drive of the ensuing six in the first half was 2:13.
“We talked about it throughout the week internally – we’ve got to be our core offense,” Arroyo said, “It was good to see these guys settle in and fall into how the system works. It was a really nice job of these guys understanding what needed to get done.”
With Arroyo declining to name a starting quarterback prior to game day, there was uncertainty as to who would lead the first offensive drive of the season for the Rebels.
Brumfield led the Rebels onto the field and never looked back, completing 84% of his passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. The completion percentage trails only Caleb Herring’s 2013 game against Central Michigan (24 for 28, 85.7%) for the second-highest ever in a single game for the scarlet and gray.
“I saw it as an opportunity to make all the hard work I’ve done this offseason pay off,” Brumfield said, “It was an opportunity to test our skills. I’m happy we got to execute that today.”
When asked if Brumfield had done enough to be named the starter moving forward, Arroyo paused before settling all doubts regarding any consideration of a quarterback competition.
“Yeah,” Arroyo said on whether Brumfield has earned the starting spot, “Twenty-one of 25, 356 [yards] and four touchdowns, no turnovers. I like it. He did a really nice job.”
Tennessee-transfer Harrison Bailey spelled Brumfield in the third quarter and completed 3 of 8 passes for 26 yards while getting sacked three times.
Cameron Friel, last year’s starter for eight of the 12 games, closed out the game in the fourth quarter. He completed two pass attempts for 23 yards and one touchdown in limited action.
The second quarter also became the Ricky White Show. The Michigan State-transfer secured six catches and two touchdowns during the 15-minute period and paced all Rebel receivers for the game with eight receptions and 182 yards, all in the first half.
“That’s what you want,” Arroyo said, “You want to see if it translates (from practice). It’s the first game they’ve played together. To see them jell and start getting into a rhythm early, that’s exciting.”
UNLV scored in six of its seven trips to the red zone. The lone failure to score occurred in the final drive, when the Rebels were kneeling down to run out the clock.
On the defensive side, linebacker Austin Ajiake anchored a stifling defense that held Idaho State to seven yards rushing in the first half.
Aside from a blown coverage assignment that resulted in a long touchdown, the starting defensive unit ended the Bengals’ offensive drives in four punts, an interception, and a kneel down to end the half before ceding way to the second unit after halftime.
“It’s unreal,” Ajiake said, “I’ve been here for a while, and I haven’t played on a defense that was this together, this aggressive. Seeing the starters dominate, and then the two’s come in and it’s no different, it’s good to see.
Ajiake recorded eight total tackles, a sack, and an interception in thirty minutes of action. Fellow linebacker Fred Thompkins, a transfer from the City College of San Francisco, led the Rebels with 10 total tackles on the afternoon, including one for a loss.
“Above all, we were prepared today,” Ajiake said, “When you’re prepared for the moment, you get confidence because you know what to expect. Having that preparation from the staff and the players allowed us to play free.”
The Rebels have a bye next week and return to action Sept. 10 when they face California in Berkeley, CA at 1 p.m.