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Big plays burn UNLV in Guaranteed Rate Bowl loss to Kansas

Updated December 27, 2023 - 12:09 am

PHOENIX — Somehow, despite all odds — including the dramatic betting line shift hours before kickoff — UNLV was still in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday night.

The Rebels had overcome an abysmal first half that saw them trail by 18 points at halftime. They survived two ugly early interceptions by redshirt freshman Jayden Maiava. They didn’t have three of their top four running backs because of injury and the transfer portal.

Yet the Rebels only needed one stop. UNLV was facing fourth-and-1 from its 40-yard line, trailing by four points as the fourth quarter started.

Instead, Kansas quarterback Jason Bean faked a handoff, rolled out to his right and found junior receiver Lawrence Arnold all alone on a slow-developing post route for a 40-yard touchdown that was a turning point in the Jayhawks’ 49-36 victory over UNLV at Chase Field in front of 26,478 fans.

“Defensively, giving up big plays has been an Achilles’ heel for us all year,” UNLV coach Barry Odom said after completing his first season. “And it was again tonight.”

The Rebels haven’t won a bowl game since 2000, when John Robinson’s team beat Arkansas 31-14 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“We know who we are,” Odom said. “We know where we’ve got to go and how to get there.”

Maiava threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns, but had two early interceptions for the Rebels (9-5) that contributed to the 28-10 halftime deficit.

Junior wideout Ricky White had 97 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions — tying the UNLV single-season record with 88 catches. Junior Jacob De Jesus had 95 receiving yards on eight catches while also racking up 40 rushing yards on six carries and a touchdown.

UNLV played without running backs Donavyn Lester and Jai’Den Thomas because of injuries.

Junior safety Johnathan Baldwin led the Rebels with 11 tackles and a pass breakup. Junior cornerback Cameron Oliver added two interceptions — both in the second half — to finish the season with six.

Bean threw for 449 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Jayhawks (9-4). He also was intercepted three times. Kansas committed 18 penalties for 210 yards.

The Rebels, who closed as 7½- to 8-point underdogs after the line fell from 13, got off to a perfect start. Maiava led UNLV on a composed eight-minute, 65-yard opening drive punctuated by a 3-yard touchdown run from tailback Vincent Davis Jr.

UNLV made sure to get White some early touches and got creative with De Jesus. He caught passes from the slot and the tight end position while also getting a few direct handoffs and jet sweeps early in the game.

The Rebels defense also made a good stand, forcing the Jayhawks to go three-and-out on their first possession after a hold put Kansas behind the sticks.

UNLV’s advantage didn’t last long. Kansas stormed back with 28 unanswered points. Bean and his wide receivers connected on several deep shots against an overmatched Rebels secondary. Sixth-year kicker Jose Pizano’s 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half was UNLV’s only points since its first drive, and it entered halftime trailing 28-10.

The Rebels stormed back to start the third quarter. Bean was intercepted by Oliver for the first time, and Maiava found tight end Shelton Zeon III over the middle from 5 yards for a touchdown. It was Zeon’s first score of the season.

Hampered again by penalties, Kansas was forced to punt and immediately was punished when Maiava hit White for a 37-yard touchdown, cutting UNLV’s deficit to 28-24. The Rebels outscored Kansas 14-0 in the third quarter.

Oliver intercepted Bean again with 8:43 on the clock in the third quarter, but UNLV wasn’t able to create points off the turnover and Arnold’s 40-yard catch on fourth down extended Kansas’ lead again.

“We didn’t play our best the whole game,” junior linebacker Jackson Woodard said.

An 11-yard rushing touchdown by De Jesus was a program-record 39th score on the ground this season, but the defense was torched for 21 fourth-quarter points — all three scores on Bean touchdown passes. Odom also apologized for the scuffle between UNLV and Kansas players as time expired.

“We certainly weren’t good enough tonight to win against a really good opponent,” Odom said.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on X.

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