LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — If anything, Saturday’s game against California of the Pac-12 will provide an appraisal of UNLV’s recruiting.
The Rebels opened Aug. 27 with a 52-21 rout of Idaho State. But that was against a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) foe, a notch lower in status than Cal. The Bears will be bigger, faster, stronger. A more formidable opponent. Something UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo acknowledges.
“We know we’re up against a really well-coached football team,” Arroyo said of the Rebels’ trip to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network). “That’s why you try to go out and recruit the best players possible … those who give you the best chance when you play premier opponents …
“I can’t go rent five free-agent NFL linemen.”
Arroyo figures he’s added better players since being named UNLV coach in December 2019. His record, including this season’s opener, is 3-16, but the first two seasons were during the pandemic. And that alone put up enough barriers for a coach trying to re-energize and restock.
So Saturday will be more of a true test; just what kind of players do the Rebels have?
Arroyo said practice sessions suggest the group is ready for an opponent like Cal. The coaching staff, he said, has tried to stress competitiveness and physical play. He thinks such intangibles are sinking in.
“We believe in this group right now,” he said.
The Rebels probably will be tested on defense, trying to stop Cal’s rushing attack. Jaydn Ott ran 17 times for 104 yards in Cal’s opener, a 34-13 victory over UC-Davis. He’s the first player to surpass 100 yards rushing in his Cal debut since Shane Vereen in 2008. He also had 26 yards receiving, including an 8-yard touchdown.
In Cal, the Rebels will face a program that has been solid defensively under coach Justin Wilcox, who is in his sixth season. His teams are 27-28 overall, including the opener against UC-Davis. If that game is any indication, then the Bears look to be better on offense.
Wilcox figures his team will face a defensive test, too. He spoke highly of UNLV quarterback Doug Brumfield, who was 21-for-25 passing for 356 yards and four TDs in the opener. His completion percentage (84) is second best in program history, only behind Caleb Herring’s 85.7% against Central Michigan in 2013.
“Really efficient in the first game,” Wilcox said of Brumfield. “Big guy. He can really throw it. He can also run. He made some plays with his feet, so he’s a weapon.”
But the Bears are a double-digit favorite, almost two touchdowns, depending on which sportsbook you follow.
And the question then is if Brumfield is indeed a weapon, do the Rebels have enough of them at other positions to beat the Bears or stay close?
Arroyo and the Rebels are going to find out.