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Graney: Freshman QB earns keys to driving UNLV offense

Updated November 3, 2023 - 2:56 pm

It’s no longer a mystery. No longer a question on the depth chart. No longer a weekly inquiry to be answered.

Jayden Maiava owns the keys to the Go-Go offense for UNLV football.

And he has — for the most part — thrived in it.

The redshirt freshman quarterback has helped lead the Rebels to a 6-2 record and bowl eligibility, a team that plays at New Mexico on Saturday.

He took the job from junior Doug Brumfield, who was injured in the third game against Vanderbilt. Took it and ran (and threw) with it.

They aren’t surprised at Maiava’s development, coaches who saw his leadership skills and athletic ability and purpose in the weight room. Coaches who knew that once he improved his footwork and reads and grasped how many plays UNLV runs — it’s near equivalent to an NFL team — that Maiava would find success.

This, a kid who didn’t play a down last season.

Manage the game

“He knows all the protections and gets everyone lined up properly, and that’s a lot for a freshman,” offensive coordinator Brennan Marion said. “To come in and do what he has — to put us in position to win games — has been impressive.

“Ultimately, he was always a pure passer coming out of (Liberty High). But he has worked hard to where people are now afraid when he pulls the ball in and takes off.”

This is what you want most from a young quarterback: Don’t lose the game. Manage it without making the sort of mistakes that lead to defeat. In other words, don’t mess up a good thing.

There have been a few times when the 6-foot-4-inch Maiava has flirted with the latter, but not as many as you might expect given his lack of experience. For the most part, he has made the smarter play rather than the forgettable one.

Consider:

— The Rebels rank 23rd nationally in red zone offense;

— They are sixth nationally in third-down conversions;

— They average 34.2 points;

— Fourteen players have caught at least one pass through eight games;

— Maiava is second nationally among all freshmen in pass completion percentage (64.2 percent) and ranks fourth among all freshmen in pass efficiency.

All numbers that tell you the quarterback is playing really, really well.

“We completely trust (Maiava),” Marion said. “His first real action came against an SEC opponent (Vanderbilt), and he led us on a two-minute drill to go win the game. Ran the full menu of our offense. That let us know he had been learning and listening and retaining information.

“He’s free to make plays and decisions out there. We don’t hold him back at all.”

Brumfield wasn’t at his best when going down with what was called a rib injury, an 87.5 passer rating with no touchdowns and two interceptions that didn’t near define his ability. But he and injuries are not uncommon. It was important Maiava was prepared from the season’s first snap and ready when called upon.

Injuries guaranteed

He also won the job, whether Brumfield returns at some point or not. That’s how an injured starter often loses it, a backup entering the arena and earning the role. Maiava did that.

“The one thing guaranteed in football is that there will be injuries,” Marion said. “But it’s a blessing in college because you can still go to school and get a degree. If it happens at the pro level, it’s like, ‘What now?’

“Doug has been working hard to get himself back in position to go play and win games. We definitely appreciate and love and support Doug.”

But a season moves forward and critical games await on the horizon, and it’s important Maiava continues to play well. His team is in the thick of a Mountain West race. It has every chance to play for a league title should it not slip up.

The quarterback will be key in such a pursuit.

The one who stepped in and won the job.

He has the keys.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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