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UNLV vs Kansas: Guaranteed Rate Bowl

Rick Scuteri/AP

UNLV wide receiver Jacob De Jesus is tackled by Kansas safety O.J. Burroughs (5) and linebacker Taiwan Berryhill Jr. during the first half of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, in Phoenix.

It would be easy for the UNLV football team to be down after Tuesday’s 49-36 loss to Kansas in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

Closing the year with three straight defeats, including losses in the Mountain West championship and the program’s first bowl game since 2013? On a night when the defense was bested by a Jayhawks passing attack that racked up 449 yards and six touchdowns? That’s a tough way to end a season.

And yet, it’s hard to be anything but positive about what the Scarlet and Gray accomplished over the last 12 months.

Last year at this time, UNLV was near rock bottom after a disastrous finish to the 2022 season. The coaching staff had been fired, players were looking to the transfer portal, and success seemed further away than ever for the moribund program. So a shootout loss to a Big-12 team after a thrilling nine-win campaign represents a massive step forward.

While the players were understandably disheartened after Tuesday’s bowl defeat, first-year head coach Barry Odom walked the line between acknowledging the disappointment while looking to the future.

“We set out to win a championship. We didn’t get that done,” Odom said. “I thought the progress that the program made was substantial.”

UNLV hasn’t crossed the finish line yet when it comes to building a championship-caliber program. That was evident at Chase Field against a Kansas team that simply outmatched the Scarlet and Gray athletically. The same defensive weaknesses that plagued UNLV in losses to San Jose State and Boise State to close out Mountain West play were exploited even more brazenly by Kansas, as quarterback Jason Bean tossed four touchdown passes of 40 yards or longer.

On offense, the inexperience of freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava cropped up in the first half, as he threw a pair of panicky interceptions that helped put UNLV in a 28-7 hole.

Despite those issues, the Scarlet and Gray fought their way back into it in the second half. Junior cornerback Cameron Oliver snagged two third-quarter interceptions, and Maiava bounced back to throw a pair of touchdowns — including a beautiful 37-yard bomb to junior Ricky White — to pull within 28-24.

That’s as close as they got, as Kansas pressed down on the accelerator in the fourth quarter.  On a critical 4th-and-1 play, Bean faked a handoff and threw a 40-yard touchdown to Lawrence Arnold to end UNLV’s comeback bid.

UNLV junior linebacker Jackson Woodard said there was a miscommunication on the play, and that the defense simply made too many mistakes — both on Tuesday and down the stretch of the season.

“We didn’t play our best the whole game,” Woodard said. “No excuses, the last three games weren’t what we wanted. We’ve got to fix the things we need to fix.”

UNLV finishes the year with a 9-5 record, bowl experience and a bunch of all-conference players returning next year.

In the lead-up to the game, Odom cautioned that he expects to lose some veterans to the transfer portal, but the roster is well-positioned heading into the offseason.

“We start back school the third week in January,” Odom said. “Obviously recruiting will be hot and heavy between now and then and we start the rebuild of the next team. Every team is going to look different.”

White will be a key figure in 2024 after setting a team record with 1,483 receiving yards this season. He caught seven passes for 97 yards and a touchdown against Kansas, while junior slot receiver Jacob De Jesus had eight receptions for 95 yards.

White confirmed on Saturday that he is returning for his senior year. Maiava, Woodard and De Jesus will also be back.

Toward the end of a somber postgame press conference, White could have been speaking for the entire program when he sounded a hopeful note.

“We definitely wanted this game. We wanted a 10-win season,” he said. “It’s hard coming off this loss. We’re definitely going to bounce back. We’re going to put in the work that we need to put in, and we’ll be a better team next year.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun