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Opponent Preview: UNLV

All in against the Rebels

UNLV Rebel Mascot with arms outstretched.
Yet another contest against a school with an old white dude mascot
Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The Opponent: University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Summer Preview | Roster | UNLV Athletics)

When: September 16, 2023, 6:00 PM CT on CBS Sports

Where: Allegiant Stadium - Las Vegas, Nevada

Last year: 5-7 (3-5 Mountain West)

The last time we saw these guys: 34-10, UNLV (2019)

Series record: 1-0, UNLV

Head Coach: Barry Odom (1-1 at UNLV)

Former Missouri head coach and Arkansas associate head coach, Barry Odom took over the UNLV job on December 6, 2022. In his time at Missouri, he went .500 and lost to a Derek Mason-led Vanderbilt in that 2019 season when Missouri was ranked (weird, but true). Marcus Arroyo, the previous coach, on the surface seemed to have improved the program year-over-year (0-6 in 2020, 2-10 in 2021, 5-7 in 2022) so it seems a little strange Barry Odom was hired at all. I could not find any burning gun in my couple of minutes of research, so maybe there was behind the scenes drama that never came out or maybe UNLV just though it was worth getting rid of a guy with two years left on his deal to try and get someone they thought could take what Arroyo had built (he had unprecedented recruiting success at UNLV) and run with it.

Offense: Quarterback Roulette

I rambled a bit on offense last week. I promise I’ll be a little shorter this week, especially since I am so late on this preview after an ongoing whirlwind week at Ye Olde Day Job. I’ll start you off with highlights from the Bryant and Michigan games, although the balance of highlights is pretty lop-sided towards one of those videos and I’ll let you guess which. The star of the offense is clearly receiver Jacob De Jesus, who has 9 receptions for 96 yards and a long of 29 in his first season in FBS. He seems like he has a lot of speed to him, and I am pretty worried he could end up torching our secondary (wooooowwww, so original am I right?) both on offense and, as you’ll read later, on returns. The team seems to be run-first, though, with duties spread around the RB room.

Quarterback is where it gets interesting. The UNLV Depth Chart lists Doug Brumfield as the starter, but Jayden Maiava has played about about a quarter of the snaps and looked much better in that time. Whether that was because many of Maiava’s snaps came in garbage time or because teams had prepared for one and gotten the other is unclear. Both can run, though, and I would expect to see a lot come from the ground game whichever of the quarterbacks and running backs take the field.

Defense: Raising the Stakes

Odom means business on defense, having found profound success at coaching up defenses at Memphis and Arkansas. I would expect to see similar movement this year after UNLV finished 86th in points allowed last year. So far they have only played and FCS school (Bryant) and an opponent compared to whom they could be an FCS school (Michigan) so it is difficult to see if that improvement is there quite yet. They covered against Michigan, which is impressive on its own, and they did so while hitting the under and actually keeping Michigan scoring more than the spread of 38, which could seem to indicate this defense could be better than at least the bookies and bettors expect.

Special Teams: All-Around Aces

Marshall Nichols ranked 45th in the country last year with an average of 42.44 yards per punt and a long of 56. So far this season, it’s clear he has more range. He has already added 4 yards to his long after only 8 punts, and is currently averaging 47.5. Jose Pizano is perfect so far this season with a long of 48 after transferring from Missouri State. He is coming off a down year, but he is 45-54 all-time and 105-106 on extra points, so I would probably expect this guy to bang it in if he gets the chance. Jacob De Jesus does it all. In his first year out of Modesto Junior College, averaged 53 yards per return over 3 returns against Bryant. I know it’s just Bryant, but a long of 96 (pinning the average of the 2 others at 31) is still scary. He did not attempt any kick returns against Michigan, which I can only assume was for the best, but he did manage a 22 yard punt return against the Wolverines. The sample size is quite small, but I am not looking forward to kicking to this guy.


Outlook: Splitting the Season

It’s a little harder to predict, just because this is Barry Odom’s first season, but Colorado State and Nevada should be easy enough wins that UNLV, a middle-of-the-pack Mountain West team, can probably squeeze out a few more conference wins and get a bowl bid. I just hope that we don’t make it any easier for them.