Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 | 7:04 p.m.
Saturday’s dominant 56-14 win at New Mexico revealed the real UNLV.
That was the feeling outside the visitors locker room in Albuquerque, as the Scarlet and Gray returned to form and erased any lingering doubts raised by last week’s heartbreaking loss at Fresno State. They raced out to a 14-0 lead, extended the advantage to 35-7 at the half and cruised to the finish against a New Mexico squad that was overmatched the entire way.
The victory improves UNLV to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in Mountain West play, good for a tie for second place in the conference standings.
UNLV excelled in all three phases against New Mexico, with big plays on defense and special teams feeding into a dominant offensive showing.
Junior defensive back Jett Elad, who had a 62-yard fumble return, is convinced that Saturday’s showing is more representative of this UNLV squad than last week’s meltdown in Fresno.
“Especially after last week’s game, we wanted to come out and make a statement,” Elad said. “Really show the whole world how we can play.”
The biggest difference from last week to this week? Zero turnovers for UNLV.
After committing four giveaways in the third quarter to fuel Fresno State’s comeback — some of them unforced — UNLV protected the ball. Freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava passed for 247 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception, while five ball-carriers combined for 27 attempts without putting the ball on the ground.
Head coach Barry Odom prioritized ball security in practice this week, and he was pleased to see the return of the team he recognized — the one that ranks 14th nationally in turnover margin.
“We played good, team football,” Odom said. “Smart ball.”
No, it’s not going to be so easy every week. New Mexico is really bad, which turned a routine blowout into a complete laugher. But the way UNLV traveled to Albuquerque and played solid, mistake-free football is a good sign that what happened in Fresno was a fluky one-time thing.
UNLV got another spectacular performance from junior receiver Ricky White, who hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive snap of the game and somehow got better from there. He consistently got behind the New Mexico defense and finished with eight catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
The big plays were nice, but according to White the most important thing was reestablishing UNLV as a team that doesn’t hurt itself.
“We had to bounce back from last week and set a tone from the jump,” White said. “Last week we made a couple mistakes that hurt us. We got to work, cleaned up those mistakes and minimized the mistakes this week.”
UNLV made short work of New Mexico — literally. Two of their scoring drives consisted of just one offensive snap, and five of their touchdowns came on possessions that began inside the Lobos’ 35-yard line.
Jacob De Jesus was responsible for two of the shortened fields. The junior returned New Mexico’s first two punts for a combined 112 yards, setting up a pair of truncated touchdown drives. It must have been a cathartic experience for the normally surehanded De Jesus after his fumbled punt return last week sparked Fresno State’s comeback.
Odom said it was important that De Jesus was able to put last week’s error behind him and get back to reliably flipping field position.
“Big time,” Odom said. “We needed that. I was sure hopeful for him that he would get one he could catch and had a chance to return.”
With three games remaining in the regular season, UNLV is still in the middle of the race for the Mountain West title game. The Scarlet and Gray will be in a second-place tie with the winner of Saturday’s matchup between Boise State and Fresno State (both 3-1), with a home game against Wyoming set for Friday at Allegiant Stadium.
Odom said he wouldn’t have much time for scoreboard watching on the flight back to Las Vegas, as he and his staff opted to begin preparing for the Wyoming game. But with the real UNLV back, he’s got to like his team’s chances.
“Now the race is on,” he said.