Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about UNLV and questioned if the Rebels were for real.
They were sitting at 4-1 and Doug Brumfield was tearing up defenses. Just like a trip to Vegas though, things can drastically change, and for the Rebels they did.
Unfortunately, for the worse.
They went on to lose their next five games before capping the season with a win over Nevada to finish 5-7. What looked to be UNLV’s first winning season since 2013 and only its second since 2000 was suddenly its ninth consecutive losing campaign. This all changed after Brumfield suffered an injury. He was 4-2 until then.
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Now, the Rebels are facing a very similar situation.
Currently at 5-1, UNLV’s only loss is a 35-7 defeat at Michigan. This week it hosts Colorado State before a brutal conference slate, facing Fresno State, Wyoming, and Air Force in three of its final five games.
Soon enough we’ll find out if UNLV’s season will play out just as it did last year, or if they can finish in the top half of the league. College football betting odds had them at +1600 to win the conference and their win total at 5.5. The Mountain West preseason media poll had the Rebels finishing eighth, although they were the recipient of one first-place vote.
They’re now +850 to win the conference.
One of the reasons UNLV has had so much success this season is its ability to run the ball. The Rebels are second in the league — behind only Air Force of course — and ninth in the FBS with 221.5 rushing yards per game.
Interestingly enough, UNLV doesn’t have a player ranked in the top 10 in the MW in rushing, but they do have three players in the top 20. Vincent Davis Jr. ranks 13th with 327 yards, Jai’den Thomas is 17th with 297, and Donavyn Lester is 18th with 265 rushing yards on the year.
This rushing attack has been critical this season as there has been some inconsistency at the QB position. Brumfield was knocked out of the Vanderbilt game on Sept. 16 with a rib/hip injury and hasn’t played since. He has suited up in the previous two games but didn’t take any snaps.
Redshirt freshman Jayden Maiava has stepped into the starting role nicely and is 3-0 in the spot. He even led UNLV on a game-winning drive in that Vanderbilt game. The Rebels kicked the go-ahead field goal with five seconds remaining after getting the ball with just 44 seconds left to play. He also tossed the go-ahead TD two minutes before:
The play earned him MW Freshman of the Week honors.
There’s an -OR- between the two QBs in this week’s depth chart, but, for now, it’s likely that this has become Maiava’s job to lose.
It’s a tough break for Brumfield, who has shown he can win when healthy. There is the chance that he is named the starter going forward but the Rebels haven’t seemed too pushy about getting him back on the field.
Maiava has 960 passing yards, five TDs, and two picks on the season. He’s added 147 yards and one score on the ground. Brumfield had 201 yards, 0 TDs, and two picks in two games. He was also sacked seven times in the 2+ games and Maiava has been sacked three times in 4+ games.
2.5 tackles for loss.
The Rebels’ offensive line has improved a ton as the season has gone on, which can be seen in the rushing production. It’s also a huge help for the freshman, as is the defense.
In his first year at the helm, head coach Barry Odom and new defensive coordinator Mike Scherer have the Rebels’ defense playing better than expected, allowing 26.8 PPG which ranks fourth in the league. This has been another factor in their 5-1 start.
Odom is the third UNLV coach in the past five years, and so far it looks like the program might have finally found their guy. We saw last season how quickly things changed for Marcus Arroyo, though.
Hopefully, Odom can help the Rebels avoid another collapse in the second half of the season and get them to their first bowl game in a decade.