They started filing in about 90 minutes prior to kickoff, curiosity seekers wondering what kind of football team they really have to support and what $2 billion worth of a stadium looks like.
The stadium didn’t disappoint. Allegiant Stadium is a huge upgrade from Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV? Well, let’s just say the Rebels are a work in progress.
The 2,000 socially distanced Rebels fans who watched Nevada reclaim the Fremont Cannon on Nevada Day Saturday following a two-year stay in Las Vegas with a 37-19 win have to be wondering about the latest person to prowl the sidelines. Marcus Arroyo came highly touted as Oregon’s offensive coordinator when he replaced Tony Sanchez. But so far, his team is 0-2 and hasn’t looked good in the process. And with the schedule only slated for eight games, all in the Mountain West, there’s not a lot of time to make fixes or changes.
“I’m proud of some of the improvement, but again we’re not into moral victories,” Arroyo said. “It’s exciting to come into a great and amazing venue that people worked so hard to get us into, so we’re really grateful for that. Allegiant Stadium is amazing and the people that put the blood, sweat and tears into putting this together did a phenomenal job to get this ready for all of us in a really tough time. So we’re excited about that. But we’re hurting. We’ve got to execute better on both sides of the ball.”
Yes, Arroyo can probably be cut a considerable amount of slack. He never had spring practice and his fall workouts were interrupted by, you guessed it, the coronavirus. He’s trying to find a quarterback and he may have found one in Max Gilliam.
The senior threw for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He appeared much more comfortable than he was a week ago in the 34-6 season-opening loss to San Diego State. But the offense failed to complete several drives as penalties and poor execution helped contribute to those possessions stalling out.
“I feel we did a good job of preparation,” Gilliam said. “But we have to finish off our drives. We settled for field goals and we didn’t put enough points on the board.
“I think we got a little more comfortable executing. But there’s room for improvement.”
Arroyo liked what he saw of Gilliam.
“He understood the game plan and he did a nice job,” he said. “We want to play with up speed and we’ll continue to accelerate that process.”
The flags were a problem on special teams as well. Twice the Rebels were called for being offsides on the kickoff, something that’s not only preventable, but inexcusable.
The Wolf Pack (2-0), which were 14-point favorites at kickoff, took advantage and by midway through the third quarter, were in front 27-12. The Rebels struggled to contain receiver Romeo Doubs as he caught six passes for 211 yards and a 65-yard catch-and-run second-quarter TD against an inexperienced secondary .
Quarterback Carson Strong riddled the UNLV secondary for 350 yards through the air. The defense remains a sore spot for Arroyo as he has to come up with a way to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and cut out the penalties.
“I told our players that when you play at Nevada, you’re going
to play at great places,” said Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell. “This is an example one of the great places that we get to play. You have to take advantage of the opportunity. This time doesn’t not come all the time.
“This was their moment to play there. We knew we were going to get this opportunity: playing for the cannon, playing in this new stadium, playing the first college football game. It’s almost surreal. I look up to that torch and to think a guy like Al Davis with all of his great career can see his team and his football program have a building like this. “It’s a beautiful building and it’s pretty cool to have a chance to play here, and we’re really glad that we could win the first game here.”
UNLV got as close as 27-19 with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter. But the Wolf Pack never let their in-state rival pull even and when it was over, the visitors from Reno were celebrating with the cannon.
As for the Rebels, they host Fresno State next Saturday afternoon. And while they may have settled on a quarterback, there are still plenty of issues on both sides of the ball.
“We’ll go ahead and rewind this and play it tomorrow to make sure
that we’re really detailed in finding out exactly what it is we can do to improve, Arroyo said. “We’ve got another week coming up and it’s not gonna stop.”