LAS VEGAS — You’ve heard it many times before — “Timing is everything.”
At UNLV, where its football team stands 4-4 overall, 2-2 in the Mountain West with four games remaining in its 2022 season, the timing could not be more important. The Rebels have dropped three in a row and are a team that normally might be reeling and in disarray.
Instead, UNLV is coming off a bye week which allowed itself to get healthy for the stretch run in the Mountain West, which begins Saturday at San Diego State, which has an identical 4-4 overall and 2-2 conference record. The Rebels are getting starting quarterback Doug Brumfield back from a concussion he suffered back on Oct. 7 at San Jose State. They also are expected to have star running back Aidan Robbins in the starting lineup against the Aztecs after Robbins hurt his knee Oct. 15 against Air Force. There are a few other injured performers that could be ready to go as well.
By wisely not trying to force things and play Brumfield and/or Robbins against Notre Dame, coach Marcus Arroyo now has his two key weapons available for the remainder of the season. The bye week also gave the entire team a chance to reboot physically, mentally and emotionally and as preparations have been underway for the return to the field Saturday, UNLV has renewed purpose. There’s been little to no talk about the fact this team has dropped three straight. If you listen to the players and their coach, it’s as if it never happened.
“We’re in a really good spot,” center Leif Fautanu said Monday during the team’s weekly media availability. “The bye week really helped. We’ve maintained the speed in which we practice. We’re always going at game speed. Having (Brumfield) on the field and seeing him in practice gives us extra motivation.”
Smart guy, those centers.
And you don’t even have to be smart to do the simple math. Four wins in the bank. Four games remaining. Win two and you’re bowl eligible and for UNLV, which last went to a bowl game in 2014 and was expected to win fewer than five games before the season, this is cause for excitement at the Fertitta Football Complex.
The Aztecs have plenty of motivation too. But San Diego State is coming off a 32-28 loss at Fresno State, a game they let slip out of its grasp. Who knows what their emotional state is like?
UNLV’s remaining conference schedule has the Rebels hosting Fresno State, the West Division leader at 3-1 Nov. 11, at 1-3 Hawaii Nov. 19 and home against in-state rival Nevada (0-5) Nov. 26. Unlike Arroyo, who can’t afford to look ahead beyond Saturday, I can. And what I see is a team that can at best run the table and at worst, go 2-2, assuming it keeps its starting QB upright.
Brumfield is the key to any pending success. He averages 228 yards in total offense by himself and he’s a 68 percent passer (106 of 155) with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions.
And it helps Brumfield when the team’s best running back is playing. Robbins, who injured his knee against Air Force on Oct. 15, averages 4.7 yards per carry and leads UNLV with nine TDs. Courtney Reese, who took over in Robbins’ absence, is showing he is capable of contributing as evidenced by his 74-yard run against Notre Dame.
When you can run the ball effectively, it gives your passing game a chance to have success. Add Brumfield’s mobility into the equation and I’m guessing Brady Hoke and his San Diego State staff have had a few sleepless nights trying to figure out how to game-plan for UNLV.
All of this is falling into place at the right time for the Rebels. Arroyo kept work to a bare minimum during the bye week and told his guys to prepare for the final push.
“We got healthy, recharged our batteries,” said Arroyo. “The guys are excited. They’re refueled.”
Fautanu said: “We’re 4-4. A lot of our goals are still there for us.”
Yep. Smart guys, those centers.