UNLV falls to Wyoming as possibility of winless season looms

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Steve Marcus

Wyoming Cowboys running back Brett Brenton (24) dives into the end zone for a touchdown ahead of UNLV Rebels defensive back Tyson Player (14) during the second half at Allegiant Stadium Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

Fri, Nov 27, 2020 (5:32 p.m.)

UNLV had its window. As poorly as Marcus Arroyo’s squad played on Friday — and it was bad —  they had an opportunity.

After getting pushed around by a more physical Wyoming team for the first 28 minutes, UNLV embarked on an unexpected 98-yard touchdown drive just before the half; when Max Gilliam scored on a quarterback keeper with five seconds left to cut the deficit to 17-7, there was hope on the scarlet and gray sideline inside Allegiant Stadium.

UNLV received the kick to start the second half and quickly advanced across midfield, and with a chance to make it a one-score game, Arroyo decided to go for a 4th-and-3 from the Wyoming 46.

The decision was sound. It was the execution that left a lot to be desired.

The shotgun snap to Gilliam was off the mark, and by the time he corralled it the play was out of whack. His swing pass to Tyleek Collins went nowhere (the completion actually lost seven yards) and UNLV’s window — perhaps its best opportunity to pick up a win this season — slammed shut.

Wyoming went the other way and scored eight plays later to make it 24-7, and by the time the final horn sounded the Cowboys had tacked on three more touchdown runs to make it a 45-14 final.

UNLV is now 0-5 on the season, and with two tough games remaining on the schedule (vs. Boise State next week, at Hawaii on Dec. 12) the specter of a winless campaign has never loomed larger.

Arroyo shouldered the blame for the failed fourth-down attempt, saying he’d like to have the play call back, but UNLV’s issues ran much deeper than one mangled play. And those issues have been present on a weekly basis.

Wyoming absolutely dominated UNLV’s defensive front, running for 399 yards on the day at a clip of 7.0 yards per attempt. Four different Cowboys scored rushing touchdowns and five ran for more than 40 yards. Xazavian Valladay took a handoff on the second play of the game and ran 78 yards for a touchdown; after Valladay left with an injury shortly thereafter, Trey Smith ran 24 times for 164 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Levi Williams had 43 yards and three scores.

No matter who had the ball for Wyoming, it seemed no one on the UNLV side could tackle them. UNLV has now allowed 1,651 rushing yards this season, while opponents have racked up 6.6 yards per carry.

“[Wyoming] did a nice job of executing in the running game,” Arroyo said. “That’s what they’re built on. They used the quarterback to add a body as well in the count, so it makes it tough. They run it downhill. They’re a physical brand of football … We’ve got to find a way to meet them.”

While Wyoming ran wild, UNLV once again rotated quarterbacks to minimal effect. Gilliam got the start, like he has in every game so far this season, but his only productive drive was the 2-minute drill before halftime. In something of a surprise move, it wasn’t sophomore Justin Rogers who split snaps with Gilliam on Friday, but freshman Doug Brumfield.

Brumfield came out to lead UNLV on its third possession, but the 3-star prospect from the Class of 2020 had little success. He went 3-and-out on his first two drives and didn’t really gain any traction until leading a garbage-time touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.

Brumfield completed 4-of-8 passes for 93 yards and ran eight times for 24 yards, including an 8-yard scoring run in the closing minutes.

Arroyo said health issues with Rogers as well as Brumfield’s play in practice combined to earn the frosh his first snaps.

“Doug had a nice week,” Arroyo said. “We’ve watched Doug throughout the season and in camp. He’s developing … He did some nice things. We thought he could be something that we can continue to build on.”

While the ongoing quarterback competition continues to twist and turn, defenses continue to focus on stopping Charles Williams. After running for 1,257 yards and 11 touchdowns last year as a junior, Williams was an All-Mountain West preseason selection at running back and was expected to carry the UNLV offense in 2020. Instead, defenses are loading up to stop him, as Wyoming did in limiting him to 24 yards on nine carries.

Williams now has 347 yards on 94 carries this year, giving him a paltry rushing average of 3.7. Before this season, Williams had never been below 5.1 yards per carry.

“I’m pretty aware that every D coordinator knows I’m one of the best backs in the conference, so I wouldn’t want to let the best player go crazy,” Williams said. “Defenses are going to lock in and try to stop the best player. We’ve got to execute and everything is going to work together if we work together. I have to make plays though if I’m calling myself the best player.”

With two games left on the schedule, time is running out for Williams to make plays, just as time is running out for UNLV to grab that first victory.

Williams didn’t sound like someone who wants to potentially end his college career with a winless season.

“That’s the goal every week, to win,” Williams said. “We’ve got to go out there with our best foot forward and go out there and win. That’s all I can say, honestly, just go out there and win.”

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

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