Updated September 3, 2021 - 7:28 am
Marcus Arroyo doesn’t believe in moral victories.
Not after an 0-7 start to his tenure as UNLV’s football coach and certainly not after a 35-33 double-overtime loss Thursday night to Eastern Washington at Allegiant Stadium.
“We’re too competitive. We work too hard,” Arroyo said. “We’ve got to make sure we go back and assess the film and be critical of ourselves and get better. I know these guys will.”
The Rebels nearly secured Arroyo’s first victory in the season opener, rallying from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half before falling to the Eagles of the Football Championship Subdivision before an announced crowd of 21,970.
Charles Williams began his senior season by rushing 27 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and a revamped defense forced three turnovers and stymied a potent Eagles offense for much of the first four quarters.
But complications at quarterback prompted a slow start that UNLV couldn’t overcome. And Power Five foes Arizona State and Iowa State loom on the horizon.
“As a man, you’ve got to understand and learn from your mistakes and get better,” Williams said. “We’re not going to dwell on this too long.”
A quarterback competition between junior Justin Rogers and sophomore Doug Brumfield ensued during UNLV’s training camp. Arroyo did not name a starter while professing confidence in both.
He ultimately tabbed Rogers, a transfer from Texas Christian, to lead the Rebels. But the offense was lifeless with him at the helm in his first collegiate start.
Eastern Washington’s defensive front overpowered UNLV’s offense line, limiting Rogers’ time in the pocket and preventing him from finding a rhythm. As a result, the Rebels rode Williams in the first half while their defense pestered Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere en route to a 6-3 halftime lead.
Rogers started the second half, and Arroyo said he wanted to provide him with an opportunity to find a groove. The Rebels opened with a delay of game penalty and two false starts before punting.
On the ensuing drive, Barriere threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Efton Chism III, who slipped two tackles with a nifty spin move before sprinting down the right sideline.
Brumfield then replaced Rogers, who finished 7 of 11 for 23 yards, and sparked the Rebels with a 58-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Kyle Williams on his second series.
Brumfield’s pace and poise helped UNLV tack on two more field goals from senior Daniel Gutierrez, and Charles Williams tied the score with a 19-yard touchdown scamper midway through the fourth quarter.
Junior defensive back Phillip Hill intercepted Barriere later in the quarter, providing Brumfield an opportunity to win in regulation.
But he threw an interception, and Eastern Washington’s Seth Harrison missed a 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Charles Williams ran for another score, but Barriere threw touchdown passes on two consecutive plays to give the Eagles a 35-27 lead. Brumfield ran for a touchdown on UNLV’s final offensive possession. But the 2-point conversion failed and Eastern Washington stormed the field in celebration.
Arroyo stopped short of naming Brumfield the starter but praised his play. He finished 5 of 12 for 117 yards and the one interception, though his numbers weren’t indicative of his impact.
“We just did a better job clicking. We got the ball downfield a little bit,” Arroyo said. “It’s hard to come off the bench. … I’m excited to get him moving forward. I’m sure the film will reflect that, and we’ll make a decision going into next week.”
Barriere finished 29 of 39 for 374 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The senior is one of best players in the FCS and one of the favorites to win its Heisman Trophy equivalent, the Walter Payton Award.
The Rebels hurried him all night, showing palpable improvement from their front seven. Freshman defensive back Cameron Oliver had an interception, and junior linebacker Jacoby Windmon had 10 tackles and a sack.
“We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and come out with a better mindset next game,” Windmon said.