North Texas vs. UNLV: Game Preview, Breakdown, Prediction
Rebels, Arroyo Set For Important Non-Conference Clash vs. North Texas
Rebels look to bounce back after tough loss
Finish the job. That has to be the message coming from UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo as his Rebels prepare for a crucial high noon tilt on Saturday afternoon at Allegiant Stadium against non-conference opponent North Texas.
The progress made since Arroyo’s initial Covid ravaged 2020 season is noticeable. That year the Rebels went 0-6, with all 6 defeats by double figures, and most games were not competitive after halftime. Though the Rebels produced only a 2-10 record in 2021, a closer look at the numbers shows a different story. 6 of the 10 losses were by one score, including 4 to teams with a combined record of a ridiculous 45-10 (Fresno State, Utah State, San Diego State, and UTSA). A 20-14 loss at Cal on Saturday was eerily similar to some of the gut-wrenching ones from last season. The days of UNLV being a Mountain West pushover seem to be behind us, but can Arroyo get his troops over the hump and start winning some of the close ones?
Like many of his peers in today’s college football world, Arroyo has improved the roster through the transfer portal, adding numerous starters on both sides of the ball, including the likes of a potential breakout star in WR Ricky White. The culture seems improved too, from the end of the Tony Sanchez era. Ultimately however, Arroyo will be judged by his win-loss record, and Saturday’s matchup is one he badly needs to get.
The Rebels and their fan base had to be encouraged with the effort in the Bay Area last weekend. While Cal head man Justin Wilcox is a defense first coach, holding the Golden Bears, or any Pac-12 team for that matter, to 20 points is a positive sign for a defensive unit that was shredded often last year. On the offensive side of the ball, UNLV outgained Cal on the ground, and Doug Brumfield is showing the athleticism that earned him the starting job after a spirited preseason competition. The special teams unit even got into the act with a successful onside kick executed after a Rebels TD in the third quarter.
Looking ahead to the matchup this weekend, it appears as though Brumfield and his skilled set of receivers may be able to take advantage of a suspect North Texas pass defense. The Mean Green employ long-time and well-respected DC Phil Bennett, who is heading the defense for a 10th different school, to go along with one stop as a head coach. But after a plus effort in a Week 0 win over UTEP, their defense has struggled in back-to-back games. First, in a 48-10 torching at the hands of SMU, they allowed 432 yards and 4 TD’s to Tanner Mordecai. Then last week the rushing defense was more of the culprit, as FCS opponent Texas Southern rushed for 219 yards on 4.7 ypc and put 27 points on the board.
The Cal game had great balance from a play calling perspective for the Rebels, 31 rush attempts to 33 pass attempts. Much of the same will seem to be in order if success is in the cards on Saturday. Grad transfer RB Aidan Robbins had a positive game against a usually stubborn Cal run defense and could find room to run if the offensive line fires off the ball. The line did allow 3 sacks to the Golden Bears, but if they can provide better protection for Brumfield, the tall lefty will no doubt extend plays with his mobility until his targets can get separation downfield.
With the UNLV offense expected to put up points, the outcome may very well rest on the shoulders of the defense. North Texas will also attempt a balanced run-pass attack, but the Rebels should be prepared for that after seeing a similar game plan last week. Austin Aune is back for his second season as a starter for the Mean Green and has been serviceable through 3 games, completing 52.6% of his passes with a 7/2 TD to INT split. Those 7 TD’s from Aune have gone to 7 different receivers so he has plenty of weapons to choose from. The running game has been a two-headed monster, with Ayo Adeyi and Oscar Adaway each rushing for around 250 yards thus far and Adaway punching in 4 TD’s. A veteran offensive line returns to protect Aune and create space for the backs.
The Rebels front seven has been able to generate pressure early on, including registering 9 sacks and multiple tackles for loss in each game. A key to the game could be the effectiveness of that unit led by local Bishop Gorman product Adam Plant. Senior Austin Ajiake anchors the maturing secondary and has done it all in the early going, with a sack, a tackle for loss and an interception. One area of concern for the defense is lack of discipline. Cal was gifted 7 first downs as a result of UNLV penalties on Saturday. Needless to say that number needs to drop in a big way moving forward.
Saturday’s matchup is the first of a crucial four game stretch that may need to see the Rebels net 3 wins if they would like to break a bowl drought that goes back to the 2013 season. Ironically their bowl opponent that year – North Texas. The Mean Green defeated UNLV 36-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, their first win in the series that now stands at 4-1 in favor of the Rebels.
The schedule looks like it can be broken down into 3 remaining parts. The next four games are all winnable considering the early season struggles of returning league champ Utah State. A 3-1 run in that stretch and the Rebels will sit at 4-2 entering a brutal four game gauntlet against the likely three best teams in the conference (Air Force, San Diego State, Fresno State), with a trip to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish mixed in. Truth be told it will be a challenge for the Rebs to steal a win in any of those games. The season does close with two winnable games against teams in rebuild mode – Hawaii and Nevada. That makes Saturday’s contest incredibly crucial towards the magic number of six.
Oddsmakers have set UNLV as a slight 3 point favorite, so this is a true toss-up. The two teams have similar goals for the 2022 season and this is the type of game that can boost a program with a win and send you off the rails with a loss.
Look for the Rebels to put points on the board, provided they improve on their 3rd down efficiency after suffering through a 1-12 versus Cal, with an additional 1-4 on 4th down. North Texas has enough skill position players to keep the game close, but it says here watch for UNLV to score a massive early season victory and one that could change the tenor of the Marcus Arroyo era – if they can just finish the job.
Prediction: UNLV 40 North Texas 29
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