Nevada vs UNLV Recap: Rebels Paint Fremont Cannon Red

Nevada vs UNLV Recap: Rebels Paint Fremont Cannon Red

Mountain West Football

Nevada vs UNLV Recap: Rebels Paint Fremont Cannon Red


Nevada vs UNLV Recap: Rebels Paint Fremont Cannon Red

Rebels lose Brumfield early, defense makes goal-line stand late for win

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Rebels earn 5th win of the season, a chance at bowl berth remains

In a season with as many highs and lows as UNLV football has had, the game the Rebels played tonight against the Wolf Pack might have summed up almost all of those – then somehow added a few more. 

The 2022 chapter of the “Battle of Nevada” opened with the Rebels going three and out, and a blocked punt that set up the Wolf Pack at the UNLV 17-yard line. Nevada would then struggle to gain ground on its opening drive as well and settled for a field goal and the early 3-0 lead.

On the Rebels’ second drive of the game, Doug Brumfield eluded pressure and scrambled for a five-yard gain, but not before being tackled and slow to rise. Brumfield was able to leave the field but later left the sideline and did not return in the game.

The Wolf Pack added a short field goal on their second drive to extend the lead to 6-0. It was a recurring theme for Nevada, being able to move the ball into UNLV territory, but unable to punch it through, settling for three points instead of seven. 

Harrison Bailey came on in relief of Brumfield. Although the Rebels went three and out on this drive as well, two out of three pass plays. Whether the strategy was to get Bailey up to game speed quickly or to catch Nevada off guard, it was clear Head Coach Marcus Arroyo was going to give Bailey an opportunity to open up the passing game.

On the Wolf Pack’s third drive, a touchback set up Nevada at their own 25. After an incompletion, Nate Cox hit B.J. Casteel for a 75-yard touchdown to open up a 13-0 lead for the Wolf Pack. Casteel caught the ball in stride at the UNLV 32, eluded two Rebel defenders in coverage and cut back to the middle of the field by the time he reached the end zone. 

After their fourth three and out of the opening quarter, UNLV would punt, and Nevada started their next drive at their six-yard line. The Wolf Pack would drive the ball to midfield, ultimately set up with a fourth and one at the UNLV 45. Nevada opted to go for it, and on a short pitch from Nate Cox, UNLV disrupted the play and Johnathan Baldwin scooped up the errant toss at the 48 and ran it back for the Rebels’ first score of the game. It was a big play that immediately got the Rebels back in the game and re-energized the UNLV crowd in attendance.

After a short six play drive by the Wolf Pack, UNLV took the field again and the Rebels offense went back to work. By now, Bailey appeared more acclimated in the pace of the game, more decisive in his throws, continuing to push the ball downfield when available. On his sixth pass attempt of the game, he hit Kyle Williams on a 49-yard touchdown that gave the Rebels a 14-13 lead. 

The teams then exchanged punts and field position for much of the second quarter, until Daniel Gutierrez added a 33-yard field goal for a 17-13 Rebels lead at halftime. Through two quarters, the Rebels had only 135 total yards, 19 rushing yards, and watched Nevada control the clock for almost twenty minutes. But the lead was with UNLV.

Following a Nevada punt, a Harrison Bailey interception by Nevada’s Drue Watts gave the ball back to the Wolf Pack at the UNLV 31. But the Rebels defense held Nevada to three plays and out, and the Wolf Pack settled for its third field goal of the game, closing the UNLV lead to 17-16. 

As in the second quarter, the two teams would exchange punts for much of the third quarter. Jonathan Baldwin picked off Nate Cox midway through the quarter, but the Rebels would go three plays and out. At the end of the third quarter, the Rebels looked to get the running game going more, and Aidan Robbins responded with his longest run of the game, a 31-yard play that got UNLV down to the 16-yard line. But the Rebels could not reach the end zone and Daniel Gutierrez would add a second field goal to put the Rebels up four, 20-16.

Opening the fourth quarter, Nate Cox threw his second interception of the game, this time to BJ Harris, setting up the Rebels at their own 25-yard line. UNLV then opened up its first double-digit lead of the game, going up 27-16 on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Bailey to Nick Williams with 6:45 remaining.

Nevada responded with a touchdown of their own on the ensuing drive, going 75 yards in 4:17. The one-yard dive by Toa Taua closed the lead to 27-22 with under three minutes to go in the game. Nevada opted for the two-point conversion but could not convert as the pass was batted down in the end zone.

UNLV started the next drive at their own 25, with 2:28 remaining. UNLV with somewhat conservative playcalling, handing off to Aidan Robbins on three straight rushing plays, forcing Nevada to use all of its second half timeouts. But with only twelve seconds off the game clock, UNLV was forced to punt after going three plays and out for the seventh time in the game. 

Nevada’s final drive of the game, down 5, began at its own 29-yard line, with 2:05 left on the clock. Nate Cox hit on completions of 13 and 16 yards to Dalevon Campbell to move the Wolf Pack into UNLV territory. From there, Nevada eventually reached the Rebels’ 3-yard line, first and goal, as the clock ticked down. On first down, Nate Cox spiked the ball to stop the clock at :22 seconds. On second down, Cox attempted a fade pass that fell away from wide receiver Jamaal Bell. On third down, the pass again fell incomplete as the UNLV defense tipped the ball away at the line of scrimmage. On fourth down, Nevada’s last chance to reclaim the lead, Nate Cox rolled out to his right, looking for Jamaal Bell once again, but Johnathan Baldwin was there to defend the pass and break the play up for the turnover on downs. 

Following the Rebels kneel down for the final play of the game, UNLV celebrated with the Fremont Cannon at midfield, finishing with a 5-7 record on the season and a potential bowl berth in its future.

Keys to the Game:

The loss of Brumfield early seemed to change the dynamics for UNLV, and that took some time for the Rebels to adapt to. Going to Bailey seemed to mean much more passing upfield, less rushing and fewer passes to the flats or wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and to be unexpectedly forced into that style of play clearly showed as the team struggled to gain momentum for much of the game.

Because this was UNLV’s last regular season game in 2022, if the Rebels do indeed receive a bowl invitation, will Brumfield be back in time, healthy enough to play? If not, Bailey will have time to build a better rapport with the wide receivers and it would be interesting to see how the offense looks with what appeared to be a more “deep pass” approach than the run-pass option style we have seen with Brumfield behind center.

Final Thoughts: 

It seemed for much of the game, Nevada’s inability to get touchdowns instead of field goals was keeping UNLV too close for comfort. But then for UNLV, the Rebels couldn’t capitalize on those Nevada miscues. The defense would make a great play, force Nevada to punt, then the offense would go three and out. 

And the Rebels showed a lot of heart in overcoming so much. From a determined rival, to losing their starting quarterback, to coming off a six-game losing streak, there were a lot of reasons UNLV could have let this one slip away. But to battle all game long, from being down 13 to a goal line stand with seconds remaining, it was great to see so many players take in the moments after the game, to realize all that they had invested, all that they have given, meant so much. 

For the season as a whole, since this was the regular season finale, it was a year for UNLV that showed a lot of progress and exceeded the expectations of many. And if there’s a bowl game willing to offer the Rebels one more game, all the better for this team and the program. With another 1,000-yard rusher in Aidan Robbins and a bend-but-don’t-break defense that plays as opportunistic as the Rebels do, they would be an interesting team to see in another non-conference contest. Win or lose, it would be interesting to gauge the bowl performance versus their early games, assuming the team is with its full complement of players.

UNLV will be an interesting team for recruits and the transfer portal this offseason. In a major city, with a new stadium and a growing fan base, coming off an improving season, it should prove to be an attractive opportunity for players in 2023. 

Player of the Game:

For such a storied rivalry, Johnathan Baldwin played a game to be remembered: a defensive touchdown off a bad lateral pitch, an interception when Nevada looked like they were regaining momentum, and a pass defended to turn back a potential game-winning touchdown with seconds remaining. The sophomore defensive back came up with one big play after another to pace a defensive unit that kept the Rebels in the game and then held on when the Wolf Pack made a late charge. 

Next Up:

UNLV will be awaiting the results of a few late games but should be looking for an invitation to a bowl game soon. Earlier this week, Brett McMurphy of Action Network projected the Rebels to the Myrtle Beach Bowl, to face Liberty, who may or may not be without their head coach Hugh Freeze, if some reports out of the SEC are accurate. 

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