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Graney: Dynamic duo help UNLV turn corner on football field

They ran into open space early and often, the most entertaining duo UNLV football has featured in years.

You have to search far back to discover a combination like Doug Brumfield and Aidan Robbins.

Just electric. Exciting as all heck.

Their skills were on full display Saturday, when the Rebels took North Texas behind the Allegiant Stadium shed for a 58-27 victory before 19,623 fans.

It makes UNLV 2-1, and the team that showed up Saturday should more than compete with any remaining opponents.

Mountain West teams are going to have their hands full trying to stop the Rebels. A corner has been turned.

Improvement is certainly needed in spots — the Rebels allowed 474 yards Saturday — but the idea that UNLV can’t win its share in a league whose scores suggest things are more wide open than some Rebels receivers is unreasonable.

There remains one nonconference game — at Notre Dame on Oct. 22 — but the Rebels open league play at Utah State next Saturday. And here we go.

Chasing others

Brumfield is the sophomore quarterback who would throw for 211 yards and rush for 100 more Saturday while accounting for four scores. Robbins is a Louisville junior transfer back who rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns.

Both are big, strong athletic players. Hard to bring down. Hard to catch.

“I feel like it has been a long time coming,” Robbins said. “It’s about Doug and I and our teammates buying into the process, coming to work every day with our lunch pail and just doing our job.”

The Rebels met North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in the 2013 season. Since then, only twice has a UNLV quarterback thrown for over 2,000 yards and a running back rushed for at least 1,000 in the same season.

Caleb Herring and Tim Cornett in 2013.

Kenyon Oblad and Charles Williams in 2019.

Brumfield is on pace for 3,092 and Robbins for 1,392.

Won’t be easy by any stretch. Will be fun to watch.

“Whether (people) expected this or not, we expect it,” linebacker Austin Ajiake said. “Whether the outside believes it or not, we have that belief.”

UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo always said it could come at any time. From any place on the field. In any situation. Plays that decide games.

So when UNLV needed to be stout and refuse North Texas advancement, the Rebels stood tall.

Or, well, merely remained down in the trenches and won their individual battles.

Consider: The Mean Green had fourth-and-1 from their 34 midway through the second quarter when UNLV held on downs. One play later, Robbins sprinted for a score.

Then, it happened again.

North Texas faced fourth-and-1 from the UNLV 18 with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter. The Rebels held and followed with a 15-play drive that culminated in a 1-yard scoring run from Robbins and a 44-27 lead.

Then, it happened again.

It was fourth-and-goal from the 1 for North Texas when UNLV denied the Mean Green with 10:24 remaining. The answer this time: A 99-yard scoring drive in six plays and 3:32.

That made it 51-27. That made it blowout city.

Not finished product

“We’re excited about the brand of football we’re playing, and that’s really important,” Arroyo said. “It feels good to start the way we have. We have a lot to build on. It’s good to get our fan base excited. Big deal for us. Fuels us.”

They’re 2-1. It’s not often you can say that. Not often at all.

A corner has been turned. The quarterback and running back are something else.

But it’s not near a finished product. There’s much to clean up.

Hey. Maybe that’s the best news of all.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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