Who is UNLV? Get to know Iowa State football's talented but winless opponent this weekend
AMES, Ia. — There is no shortage of water-cooler conversation surrounding the Iowa State football program.
There’s the whole Brock Purdy-got-benched thing. There’s the whole Breece Hall-is-starting-slow thing. The offense is scoring just 16.5 points per game, the defense has been tremendous, the Cyclones have lost six-straight times to Iowa.
And, oh yeah, Iowa State has another game coming up, this Saturday night against UNLV (0-2).
"We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us," Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said Tuesday. "The first road game of the season."
Indeed, the 14th-ranked Cyclones (1-1) will head to Las Vegas to play the winless Rebels at Allegiant Stadium, the massive new home of the Oakland Raiders that some have nicknamed "The Death Star" and others believe looks like a giant Roomba.
The team Iowa State plays this Saturday — kickoff is set for 9:30 p.m. CST on CBS Sports Network — isn’t exactly full of future NFL potential.
UNLV dropped its first two games of the season, 35-33 in overtime to Eastern Washington then 37-10 to No. 21 Arizona State. Against Eastern Washington, the Rebels scored 14 straight to force overtime. Against the Sun Devils, they trailed 14-10 at half, then watched Arizona State score 23 unanswered in the second half.
This will be just the sixth meeting between these two teams, and the first since 2008, when UNLV won, 34-31. That is the Rebels’ only win in a series that dates back to 1995. Even more, UNLV has an Iowa native on the roster: Anthony Berry, an offensive lineman from Urbandale who became a Rebel after two years at Iowa Central.
The player to watch for the Rebels is quarterback Doug Brumfield … if he plays, that is.
Brumfield left last Saturday’s game against the Sun Devils with an undisclosed upper-body injury. UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said this week that Brumfield, a redshirt freshman, is day-to-day.
A 6-foot-5 lefty, Brumfield is a running threat, having scored three rushing touchdowns in four games of action. He came off the bench against Eastern Washington and rallied UNLV from down 20-6 after three quarters to force overtime at 20-all. He engineered two scoring drives in the first half against Arizona State before his injury.
"Really talented young football team in a lot of ways," Campbell said. "One of the most talented quarterbacks we’ve seen so far, a dynamic playmaker."
Outside of Brumfield, UNLV’s offense features an experienced running back in Charles Williams, who’s amassed 212 yards on 41 attempts, good for 5.2 per carry, through two games this season. Kyle Williams leads the receiving corps with eight receptions for 114 yards, good for 14.3 yards per catch.
"Take it play by play and just do your job," Iowa State defensive back Kym-Mani King said of his focus this week. "The play will always come to you. Any time you ever try to force the play, that’s when you find yourself out of position. That’s what I focus on."
Defensively, the Rebels have a knack for turnovers, with three interceptions and a fumble recovery this season. The defense has also recorded four sacks, and both Austin Ajiake and Jacoby Windom lead the team with 19 total tackles.
"On the defensive side, really opportunistic, athletic," Campbell said. "A lot of young guys that play really hard."
This could end up being the game in which Iowa State corrects itself to get things moving in the right direction. The whole "slow starts" thing is very real. Consider:
- In 2017, Iowa State started 1-1 after two games, 2-2 after four, finished 8-5.
- In 2018, Iowa State started 0-2 after two, 1-3 after four, finished 8-5.
- In 2019, Iowa State started 1-1 after two, 2-2 after four, finished 7-6.
- In 2020, Iowa State started 1-1 after two, finished 9-3.
Here they are again, in 2021, at 1-1 after two games. The players are aware of the perception, and are ready to figure it out. They know full well that a strong showing this Saturday could change the conversation surrounding the team.
"We got smacked in the mouth once for us to really figure it out and get going," Hall said. "We didn’t want that to happen this year, but sometimes that’s for the best. I’m excited to see how we bounce back."
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.