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Nevada football 2021 offseason opponent preview: UNLV

Nevada v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Barring any unforeseen circumstances (can we not have another pandemic, please?), there are five Saturdays until the Nevada football season kicks off.

This is our second annual offseason opponent preview. Each Thursday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2021 schedule — starting at the beginning.

This week, we preview Nevada’s eighth game in the Battle of the Fremont Cannon against intrastate rival UNLV!!! Here’s a look at Nevada’s full 2021 schedule:

Nevada Football 2021 Schedule

Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Sept. 4 at California FS1 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Idaho State TBA TBA
Sept. 18 at Kansas State ESPN+ 11:05 a.m.
Sept. 25 BYE ---------
Oct. 2 at Boise State Fox Networks (specifics not yet announced) TBA
Oct. 9 vs. New Mexico State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Hawai'i CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Fresno State Fox Networks TBA
Oct. 29 vs. UNLV CBS Sports Network 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 vs. San Jose State Fox Networks TBA
Nov. 13 at San Diego State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Air Force FS1 6/7/7:30 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Colorado State CBS Sports Network 6 p.m.

Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

Previous weeks:

Week 1: California

Week 2: Idaho State

Week 3: Kansas State

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: Boise State

Week 6: New Mexico State

Week 7: Hawai’i

Week 8: Fresno State

Week 9: UNLV Rebels

2020 record: 0-6 (All MWC)

When: Friday, Oct. 29

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

Matchup History: Nevada leads 27-19

UNLV 2020 season-in-review:

Under first year head coach Marcus Arroyo, the Runnin’ Rebels were unquestionably the worst team in the Mountain West in 2020. It dropped all six of its game by at least two scores, all but one coming by 17-plus points. UNLV scored just 17.3 points per game with an average point differential of 20.3 points — both the ninth-worst marks nationally. It had inconsistent quarterback play throughout the season and couldn’t generate any success on either side of the ball. It did not play in two of its final four scheduled games to close the season because of COVID-19 issues — one of the many Mountain West programs that was plagued by such issues.

UNLV on offense:

Though his roster spot would’ve likely been in question anyways, quarterback Max Gilliam graduates.

Former TCU transfer Justin Rogers, Miami transfer Tate Martell III — the 2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year winner and a former four-star recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, Nev.) — and Doug Brumfield will all compete for the starting quarterback spot this fall.

Last season, Rogers appeared in only two contests. He threw for 161 yards on 14-of-22 passing with one touchdown. Against San Jose State, Rogers, a native of Shreveport, La., completed 12-of-18 passes with his lone touchdown coming on a 19-yard pass to receiver Kyle Williams.

Brumfield also played in two games as a freshman. He sported a lower completion percentage (9-of-21; 42.9 percent) than Rogers, throwing for 151 yards without a touchdown or interception.

Martell’s recent transfer completely changes the complexion of UNLV’s quarterback race.

To start from the beginning, he was a highly recruited gunslinger — dubbed the nation’s second-best dual threat quarterback and the 56th-best overall recruit in the 2017 recruiting class, per — before committing to Ohio State out of high school.

Hurricanes football practice 8/8/2019
Miami Hurricanes quarterback Tate Martell runs drills during practice on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019.
David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

He spent two years behind eventual first-round pick Dwayne Haskins before transferring to Miami after the 2018 season. Despite the hype upon arriving to Miami, he spent two years there without much of an opportunity.

Martell completed his only pass attempt, for seven yards, after going 23-for-28 for 269 yards and a touchdown with Ohio State in 2018. Martell did not record a statistic at wide receiver after transitioning there due to D’Eriq King’s emergence under center.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Martell, who threw for over 7,500 yards and 113 touchdowns in high school, started UNLV’s 2021 campaign behind center. The competition is wide open for a reason, right?

Two years removed after recording the seventh-most rushing yards in school history with 1,257, Charles Williams had a down year — the last thing UNLV would’ve wished for. He rushed for 495 yards on 116 carries — equating to 4.3 yards per carry, nearly two yards fewer than the year prior (5.9) — with a team-high four touchdowns.

For the third consecutive season, the “Chuck Wagon” will shoulder a vast majority of the snaps. No other tailback garnered more than nine carries last season.

Kyle Williams was UNLV’s breakout receiver. He tallied team-highs in receptions (35) and receiving yards (426). Just three Rebel receivers — Williams, Tyleek Collins and Steve Jenkins — found the end zone in 2020. Each tallied two apiece.

The Rebels’ offensive line is one of their most formidable units offensively.

Right guard Julio Garcia, an All-Mountain West honorable mention honoree in 2019, leads the way. Garcia is one of nine Rebels to exercise another year of eligibility for their senior season that the NCAA is granting for this season.

Former USC transfer Clayton Bradley — another “super senior” — will look to add beef at tackle along with Tiger Shanks. The Rebels have a capable center in Leif Fautanu, who started in four games as a redshirt freshman last year.

UNLV on defense:

The Rebels, who ranked No. 119 in the FBS in total defense (482.2 ypg) and No. 113 in scoring defense (38.0 ppg), return its top 10 tacklers.

Kolo Uasike and Eliel Ehimare lead its three-man front. Uasike, its nose tackle, tallied 17 tackles with a pair of sacks last year. Ehimare also had two sacks with 14 tackles in 2020.

USC transfer Connor Murphy, standing at 6-foot-7, 260-pounds, could add interior juice opposite of Ehimare. In 50 career contests with the Trojans, he totaled 18 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and two fumble recoveries.

Its top two sack leaders from a year ago were linebackers Jacoby Windmon, UNLV’s only All-Conference member last year, and Adam Plant Jr.

Windmon, who transitioned as an EDGE rusher to one of its inside linebacker positions, led the Rebels with five sacks. He added 39 tackles — three fewer than Bryce Jackson, the team’s top tackler — with 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Plant Jr. had 3.5, adding a team-high seven tackles-for-loss with 31 tackles, tied for the fourth-most.

Jackson tallied a career-most 42 tackles with two pass breakups with one fumble recovery. He is joined by Tre Caine and Nohn Williams, who had a breakout freshman campaign. Caine and Williams were UNLV’s only two players to record an interceptions in 2020.

My thoughts:

UNLV will likely be one of, if not the worst team in the Mountain West again this season. It is in the midst of a rebuilding stage and didn’t add enough requisite talent to arise from that tier. That doesn’t mean it won’t show up against the Wolf Pack, however. UNLV has taken two of the last three matchups with considerably less talent. Nevada handedly took care of business last year — evidently painting it blue — but UNLV will look to take back the Fremont Cannon once again in 2021.