Building on their momentum from a decisive 52-21 victory over Idaho State in the home opener, the Rebels are coming out of their bye week for a Sept. 10 date in Berkeley with the California Golden Bears.
Entering his third season, head coach Marcus Arroyo emphasized the importance of starting the season with a win in front of the scarlet and gray faithful in a crucial season.
“It was great to be back at home with our fans,” Arroyo said, “To get [Allegiant Stadium] rocking and rolling off the bat was really fun. It means a lot to our city, and it means a lot to us. It’s a good first step in a long season.”
The Rebels are looking to carry their momentum from the win against Idaho State into the rest of their season.
UNLV’s offensive production helped them build an early lead, which was highlighted by Michigan State transfer wide receiver Ricky White.
White, who led the Rebels with eight receptions for 182 yards and two touchdowns, echoed both his coach’s satisfaction of a solid performance and the urgency to continue improving.
“We never want to become complacent,” White said, “We want to make a statement out of every game. We have a lot of things to prove, and we’re going to make sure we prove them.”
In its first-ever live game action, the Doug Brumfield-to-White connection established itself as a legitimate offensive threat, thanks to a quickly developed chemistry between the two.
“We built a bond outside of football as brothers,” White said, “On the field, we put in a lot of work after hours. Early mornings and late nights, those are key factors in having a great offense.”
Though Arroyo will gladly take the victory, he knows his work is far from over with 11 more weeks ahead of him.
Even in a 31-point blowout, there are still many lessons to be taken and areas in which to improve.
“There’s a lot that we saw in the game that we’ve seen in offseason training that we hoped would be there,” Arroyo said, “There’s also some things we’re excited about fixing. I know I’m probably a sicko with that, but I ran right back in [to the football complex] to watch film and had four or five subtle details that I thought, ‘We can do better there.’”
Of all the highlight-reel plays made Saturday, Arroyo’s favorite was Brumfield’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Williams in the second quarter. Arroyo loved it not necessarily because of the touchdown itself, for the Rebels already held a commanding 24-7 lead prior to that score, but because of the effort and determination the entire offensive unit demonstrated on that play.
Kyle Williams ran an out-route from the backfield towards the left sideline, caught the ball at the 10-yard line, then turned upfield towards the end zone. He was met by four Idaho State defenders three yards away from the goal line. Though his momentum was slowed, Williams remained on his feet and kept the play alive.
That’s when Williams’ teammates came to the rescue. Several members of the offensive line and Brumfield were among the notable Rebels in the pile to push Williams into the end zone. The force from the pile was too much for the Idaho State defenders as Williams spilled into the endzone for the touchdown.
“It gives me goosebumps still thinking about it,” Arroyo said, “It was just such a resounding feeling for our team because of the way it happened organically. I probably broke the film. I must have rewound it 50 times.”
The starting defense for the Rebels held Idaho State to 18 net yards rushing in the first half. UNLV allowed an average of 118 per game on the ground a season ago.
Defensive lineman Eliel Ehimare credits the aggressive nature of the front seven as the greatest difference from last year.
“Compared to years past, we just have a different mentality,” Ehimare said, “There’s a vengeance against everybody we play. It starts with [defensive coordinator Keith Hayward]. He’s a violent individual himself. If there’s something that’s wrong, he’s going to weed it out.”
They’ll have to maintain that hostile mentality against a California rushing attack that averaged 164.2 yards per game last season. That mark would have been good for fourth in the Mountain West in 2021.
Correcting mistakes isn’t limited to Arroyo and the offense. Despite a winning performance, the few plays that got past the defense don’t sit well with the players.
“’We have a standard to uphold’,” Ehimare said, “That’s all that needs to be said. With that, guys quickly fall in line. They know what we’re talking about, and we move forward.”
UNLV returns to the field on Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. when it travels to face California before returning to Allegiant Stadium on Sept. 17 to play North Texas at 12 p.m.