Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 | 12:34 p.m.
El Paso, Texas —
The UNLV football team will look to nab its second straight non-conference win on Saturday when they travel to UTEP (4 p.m., ESPN+). Can the Scarlet and Gray win on the road to improve to 3-1 on the season?
Three keys to watch:
It’s only Week 4, but UNLV is already running into quarterback questions.
Starting QB and team captain Doug Brumfield was knocked out of last week’s game after taking a hard hit on a sack, and his status for Saturday remains uncertain. If he’s unable to go, the Scarlet and Gray will turn to Jayden Maiava, the redshirt freshman who led the team to victory over Vanderbilt.
Head coach Barry Odom sounded confident in the backup plan, if it comes to that. Maiava’s first extended playing time produced enough highlights (deep completions to Jacob De Jesus and Ricky White in crunch time) to outweigh his rookie mistakes, like a last-minute interception that fortunately did not come back to haunt.
If Brumfield is too sore to take the field, look for UNLV to let Maiava air it out again.
The UNLV defense hasn’t been consistent this season, but the unit has survived by creating big plays. That’s by design, according to senior linebacker Elijah Shelton.
Shelton was one half of the biggest defensive play of last week’s game; he forced a fumble in the second quarter that was recovered by Jerrae Williams and returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
Through three games, the Scarlet and Gray have forced six turnovers.
“That’s really been an emphasis this year,” Shelton said. “They’re eventually going to show up [in games] when keep doing it day in and day out in practice.”
Williams has been the driving force from his slot corner position, blitzing and creating havoc on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The senior has 5.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, an interception and the fumble recovery that went the distance against Vanderbilt.
UNLV is likely going to need Williams and the rest of the defense to make some game-changing palys against UTEP.
“It just comes down to practice,” Shelton said. “With Jerrae, you see Jerrae everywhere in practice, running to the ball. Good things happen when you run to the ball. Everyone that’s in on those plays, it’s not just by luck. Some of it is luck, but most of it is due to your practice habits.”
The defensive gameplan against UTEP is pretty streamlined: Put the Miners in third-and-long situations and have some fun.
It sounds simple, but executing will be a different story. UTEP’s top two running backs, Deion Hankins and Torrance Burgess, both average better than five yards per carry, so much of UNLV’s attention will be aimed at limiting them — especially on early downs.
According to Shelton, UNLV will load up to stop the run, then unleash its playmakers in an effort to create big plays in obvious passing situations.
“The big focus is the run,” Shelton said. “Once you stop the run, you make them pass, and that’s when the fun happens on third down and long.”
What: UNLV (2-1) at UTEP (1-3)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio: 1100AM, 100.9FM
Line: UNLV -2.5
Jayden Maiava: 60.9%, 369 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Jai’Den Thomas: 111 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 3 TDs
Ricky White: 16 receptions, 201 yards, 0 TDs
Jerrae Williams: 16 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT
Gavin Hardison: 60.2%, 722 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
Deion Hankins: 289 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 1 TD
Tyrin Smith: 19 receptions, 191 yards, 1 TD
Tyrice Knight: 51 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks