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UNLV optimistic after 2nd-half effort in season opener

Updated September 3, 2021 - 4:14 pm

Effort wasn’t the issue Thursday night.

UNLV’s football team was able to erase a 14-point deficit against Eastern Washington during its season opener Thursday night at Allegiant Stadium.

The Rebels flashed promise in all three phases of the game before falling 35-33 in double overtime to their Football Championship Subdivision foe. Their defense forced three turnovers and kept one of the best players in the FCS, the second tier of major college football, at bay for much of the game.

“I’m not surprised to see that. We talk about it a lot in our program,” Rebels coach Marcus Arroyo said. “I know that they’re about that. But I know what they want. It starts with me. It starts with our staff. Starts with us all together getting back in there and going to work.”

The offense seemed to rally around sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield in the second half and leaned on senior running back Charles Williams, who rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

Senior kicker Daniel Gutierrez made all four of his field-goal attempts, including one from 51 yards, the longest of his career, to help UNLV stay within striking distance.

But as Thursday proved, promise doesn’t ensure the Rebels, who compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top tier of major college football, of anything. Not even a victory over the only FCS team on the schedule.

“We’ve got some good teams coming now. It don’t get no easier.” Arroyo said. “We’ve got our work cut out, but I’m excited to see these guys get back to work. I think they’ve got the right mindset.”

Chief among UNLV’s issues was the play of the offensive line, especially in the first three quarters. Far too often, Eastern Washington’s defensive front forced its way through the Rebels’ offensive front on passing downs, limiting starting quarterback Justin Rogers’ time in the pocket.

Williams was able to find running lanes and use his elusiveness to reach the perimeter behind better run blocking. But Rogers was able to complete only 7 of his 11 pass attempts for 23 yards, prompting the switch to Brumfield midway through the third quarter.

With Brumfield behind center, the Rebels pushed the ball down the field — allowing for quicker drives and scores. Arroyo didn’t say that Brumfield would start Sept. 11 against Arizona State but praised his play.

UNLV’s defense stood tall against Eagles quarterback Eric Barriere, a top contender for the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, the Walter Payton Award. An improved, physical defensive line generated pressure on the interior and exterior and forced Barriere into a few poor decisions and inaccurate throws.

A few breakdowns happened on the back end when Barriere eluded pressure and scrambled. But that’s prone to happen as fatigue sets in late in a game.

Junior linebacker Jacoby Windmon said he wants to see “guys running to the ball more, getting the ball out and creating more turnovers” against Arizona State.

“There are guys coming together and guys buying into the program,” Windmon said. “We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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