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Wolf Pack spoil Rebels’ opener at Allegiant Stadium

UNLV’s improvement from game one to game two was not enough to stop the red hot UNR offense.

Nevada v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Fremont Cannon began the night red, and by the end of the night on Nevada Day, it would be applied a fresh coat of Wolf Pack blue, thanks to a red hot UNR offense that left UNLV and all its fans inside Allegiant Stadium blue.

UNLV had no answers for an explosive UNR offense in their 37-19 defeat Saturday night in their debut at Allegiant Stadium. The Wolf Pack piled up 497 yards of offense and Carson Strong torched a young and inexperienced UNLV secondary with 350 passing yards and two touchdowns.

After last week’s abysmal performance against San Diego State, where UNLV only had 25 total yards of offense in the first half (all on the ground), there was only one way to go, up. The Rebels looked better on offense and more comfortable getting into a rhythm, but it was not enough to hang with what Strong and the rest of the UNR offense was doing when they got the ball. While the uptick in performance was inspiring, a loss, especially a loss against your rival opening up your new stadium, is still a loss.

“I’m proud of some of the improvement,” Marcus Arroyo said after the game, “but we’re not into moral victories…We’re hurting. I think that’s the thing, with the culture that we’ve got to understand, is we’ve got to play good football to beat good football teams. And we’re not into moral victories. We’ve got to execute better on all sides of the ball, and we’ve got to come together.”

It was big play after big play from the UNR offense. The first play of the game would be a sing of things to come as Strong hit Romeo Doubs for a 36-yard completion to begin their opening drive that ended with a Wolf Pack field goal. In total, UNR averaged over 16 yards per reception on the night.

Offensively for UNLV, Arroyo had planned to potentially utilize a similar rotation at quarterback like they did last week against San Diego State. Max Gilliam was the listed starter on the depth chart and started the game and played the whole way through. With a week of preparation and a game under his belt, the Rebels looked more comfortable on offense.

UNLV managed to drive down the field on their first two drives of the game that went into the UNR red zone. On their first possession, UNLV established the run early with Charles Williams getting a first down on the first play of the drive and Gilliam picked up first downs through the air with passes to Noah Bean and Tyleek Collins. When the Rebels drove into the UNR red zone, a clipping penalty stalled the drive and UNLV had to settle for a field goal.

After a UNR touchdown, UNLV drove down the field again. And again, they drove down the field into the Wolf Pack red zone and had to settle for another field goal to put the game at 10-6. Another penalty stalled momentum on the drive and the Rebels could not convert in the red zone to keep pace with the Wolf Pack.

“The red zone is where we’ve got to finish,” Gilliam said. “We can’t come up with too many field goals. Our goal is to put points on the board – score more than the other team – but we didn’t do that, so we’ll get right at it next week.

UNR struck back on the next drive when Strong connected with Doubs again for a 6-yard touchdown pass to go up 17-6 and the forced the Rebels into a three and out on their next possession.

The Rebels would finally convert in the red zone late in the second quarter. They went for it on fourth and goal from the one-yard line and were able to convert when Gilliam hit Collins in the end zone to cut the deficit to 17-12, after a missed two-point conversion.

UNLV would not add to the scoreboard until the third quarter when Gilliam found Steve Jenkins on a five-yard slant route in the end zone, but it would be all the scoring UNLV would do on the night as UNR continued to rack up the points and the yards.

Arroyo was proud of how the young secondary competed against the experienced UNR receivers; he has been impressed with how they have come together during the past 30 days. He also shared similar sentiments about Gilliam and his play at quarterback. Arroyo has been looking for one of the guys in the competition to go up and take the job, and after Gilliam’s play this week, he might have done so.

“It was similar, kind of, to what we saw in parts of last week and carried over into the week. It’s continued in these first four weeks of camp of putting the offense a little more and more together. He was productive and understood the game plan…He’s done a nice job, was productive did some good things. I think there’s some stuff we’re obviously going to walk back. Obviously, our standards are set really high, so Max did a nice job,” Arroyo said.

For the second week in a row, UNLV was missing several key contributors, including linebacker Ferrell Hester, and defensive backs Greg Francis and Drew Tejchman, who could have helped better contain the UNR offense. And on the other side of the ball, the Rebels were down several receivers, Randal Grimes and Brandon Presley. The school will not announce what the reason is for all the players who are on the roster but not active.

The Rebels have to get better and they have to do it quickly ahead of their next game against Fresno State. They do not have a lot of time as there are only six games, in six weeks left in the season.

“We’ll go ahead and rewind this and play it tomorrow to make sure that we’re really detailed in finding out exactly what it is we can do to improve. We’ve got another week coming up and it’s not gonna stop,” Arroyo said.

UNLV will get back to work this week to get ready for another home game at Allegiant Stadium against Fresno State this Saturday, Nov. 7 at 12:30 pm. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network, and can be heard on ESPN Las Vegas 1100 AM/100.9 FM and on UNLV’s student radio station KUNV Las Vegas 91.5 The Rebel HD-2.