LAS VEGAS — It’s been a long summer of optimism and anticipation for UNLV faithful. Fans and media alike have talked up the shift in mentality and recruiting presence since Barry Odom took over as head coach in December of last year.
While it may take a few years for the recruiting presence to fully come to fruition, today was the first opportunity for the fresh mentality to be presented on the football field.
Much to the relief of UNLV fan base, the new look Rebels didn’t waste a second. Vincent Davis Jr. took a handoff 69 yards to the end zone on the game’s opening play.
After Bryant handed the ball back deep in UNLV territory on an egregious fourth-and-one call, the Rebel’s “go-go” offense struck quickly again as freshman Jai’Den “Jett” Thomas broke off a 20-yard touchdown run.
Highly touted newcomer Jacob DeJesus started the Rebels third drive with an impressive 29-yard run into Bryant territory. Returning starters QB Doug Brumfield and WR Ricky White just missed a connection on 3rd and 18 that would have put the Rebels ahead by three touchdowns.
Instead, they settled for the field goal. Senior kicker Jose Pizano, a Missouri State transfer, buried a 48-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 17-0 with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
The Rebels defense started to bend late in the second quarter. Bryant drove deep into UNLV territory, but the Rebels refused to break and came through with a goal line stand on 4th and 1.
After the game was briefly delayed for a leak in Allegiant Stadium’s roof during a torrential downpour, Brumfield powered into the endzone on an impressive 15-yard touchdown run to close the first half.
The Rebel onslaught continued into the second half. Rebel DB Thomas Anderson intercepted Byant’s junior quarterback Zevi Eckhaus, again setting the Rebels up with prime field position, before a Pizano field goal made it 27-0 with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter.
UNLV’s defense finally let the ice break late in the third quarter, after a diligent Bryant drive resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run for senior running back Ryan Clark.
Whatever momentum Bryant had gained from that drive was short lived, as touted JUCO transfer Jacob DeJesus took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to the Bryant 2-yard line. Senior Running back Donavyn Lester, a transfer from William & Mary, punched it in for an immediate UNLV touchdown with 3:24 left in the third.
The freshman Thomas hit pay-dirt again for UNLV just over a minute in play later, scoring his second touchdown in his collegiate debut for the Rebels after being set up by a long Brumfield run.
Pizano added another 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to make it 44-14 UNLV, but the game was well decided and backups were in at this point.
Brumfield went 11/18 through the air with 86 yards and an interception. He added 71 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.
Vincent Davis Jr. tallied 79 yards and a touchdown on three carries. Jai’Den “Jett” Thomas provided an additional 60 yards rushing to go along with his two touchdowns on eight carries.
Jacob De Jesus lead the Rebels in receiving, racking up 50 yards on four receptions in addition to his 96-yard kickoff return that set up a UNLV touchdown run.
FCS/1-AA matchups have typically caused trouble for UNLV over the years. By my calculation, they’ve dropped 12 games to FCS/1-AA opponents since they made the jump themselves in 1978. That goes to say, Saturday was exactly the type of game that has led to some of the biggest disappointments in program history.
The Rebel’s firm handling of Bryant may not be all the proof fans need to see, but they’ve at least started to work out the demons of their past.