UNLV Football lost to the Kansas Jayhawks 49-26 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field on Dec. 26.
Throughout the game, there were some key takeaways that were observed throughout the Rebels regular season play that led to UNLV’s high scoring affair against the Jayhawks.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Rebels can learn from this game and what may influence the program’s direction leading into next season.
A TALE OF TWO HALVES
With UNLV in the bowl game, one thing was very apparent: the lack of control in the secondary from the Rebel’s defense to open up the game.
The Jayhawks were able to connect on multiple big plays across numerous drives that helped propel them ahead early, heading into the half leading 28-10.
While the Kansas offensive stats were extremely lopsided as early as halftime, this did not reflect how the Rebel defense played.
In most of UNLV’s losses this season, it was evident that the defense was burned on many big plays, with no defensive backs near top wide receivers on the opposing offense.
However, in this game, the case was quite the opposite, as the UNLV secondary played every snap well and contested nearly every catch that the Jayhawks made.
That said, to their credit, it was still the Jayhawks who could make the big plays happen numerous times, as much of its success came from the size difference between the Kansas wide receivers and the Rebels defensive backs.
The most significant contributor to the Jayhawk offense, specifically during the first half, was the six-foot-tall junior receiver, Luke Grimm, who tallied three catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns, to put UNLV in a big hole early.
The Rebels, however, did not go away quietly, as a couple of quick scores propelled them right back into the game halfway through the third quarter, cutting the lead to 28-24.
This was mainly because the UNLV defense came alive, and its continued hard work resulted in back-to-back turnovers for the Jayhawks,
Following the momentum swing by the Rebels in the third quarter, the Jayhawks bounced right back with quarterback Jason Bean tossing three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to propel Kansas to win 49-36.
While the Rebels could not win the bowl game the UNLV Football has set new benchmark for expectations moving forward to the 2024 season.
UNLV FOOTBALL MAY FOLLOW THE SAME PATH AS KANSAS
Just two seasons ago the Kansas Jayhawks football program was one of the worst in the Big-12 and the team struggled to find consistency.
In 2020 they finished with a record of 0-9 and in 2021 the team finished with a record of 2-10.
Similarly to UNLV instead of accepting mediocrity they made changes to the program starting with head coach Lance Leipold.
After spending six seasons with the University at Buffalo he made the move to Kansas in 2021 and the team saw immediate positive results.
In the 2022 season the team moved from a record of 2-10 to 6-7. Additionally this ultimately led to the present season where the Jayhawks finished 8-4 in the regular season and won their first bowl game since 2008.
Now if you look towards UNLV they are already ahead of the pace set by Leipold and Kansas finishing this season with a 9-5 record.
With the number one recruiting class in the Mountain West UNLV and head coach Barry Ofom should be set to raise the bar a little higher next season.
If there is one thing that has completely overhauled the look of UNLV football, it is Rebel’s offensive coordinator, Brennan Marion, and his offensive scheme known as the “Go-Go-Offense.”
Marion was announced as UNLV’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Jan. 10, 2023, after the arrival of new Head Coach Barry Odom.
Despite the final score, the Rebels came out early, surprising the Kansas defense by scoring on its opening possession.
The Rebels managed to score on the opening possession five times this regular season, and in each of those games prior to Kansas, they came out victorious.
In the 2022 season, the Rebels’ offense struggled at times, as on four different occasions, UNLV failed to score more than fourteen points, two of which occurred on the road, with two at home.
This season, that only occurred once to the then-ranked No. 2 team in the country, the Michigan Wolverines, where they fell by a score of 35-7.
On the other hand, the Rebels put up over 30 points on nine different occasions this season, with their highest point total being in New Mexico, where they managed to score 56 on the Lobos.
While the offense sees big plays from wide receivers such as Ricky White and Jacob De Jesus, it all starts with the running backs out in the backfield.
The Rebels use a variety of bodies in the run game, including, but not limited to, Jai’den “Jet” Thomas, Donavyn Lester, and Vincent Davis Jr., who each recorded over 400 yards on the ground this season and at least five touchdowns.
With Marion, star freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava, and a few of his favorite targets, White and Thomas, set to return and a few highly coveted recruits set to join them. The future is bright for this young group of players and the UNLV football team.