Big questions for UNLV football on eve of training camp

Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023
UNLV football is under new management, again, as the program is set to kick off training camp on Friday under new coach Barry Odom.
Coming off a 5-7 campaign that saw the Scarlet and Gray fall just short of qualifying for a bowl game, expectations within the program are high despite the coaching change. They've got a potential star at quarterback, an exciting new offense, and a defensive-minded head coach who just might be able to pull it all together.
Is UNLV ready to take a big step forward in 2023? Some early camp questions for the program:
How fast is the offense?
Odom took a couple of big swings when it came to the team’s offensive identity. First he hired disgraced but ultra-productive guru Bobby Petrino to be the offensive coordinator, but Petrino lasted just a few weeks on the job before leaving to accept the OC position at Texas A&M.
Odom then pivoted to Brennan Marion, a young, up-and-coming passing game coordinator at Texas and the architect of one of the most unique offensive systems in modern college history.
Marion’s “Go-Go Offense” features multiple backs and unusual formations, and most importantly, it’s run at a breakneck tempo. And Marion has been given the green light to install the Go-Go at UNLV.
Starting quarterback Doug Brumfield said the offensive players are acclimating quickly to Marion’s principles.
“Installing his plays, they are very unique and different from a traditional offense,” Brumfield said. “So when we get out there and we run it right against the defense and we score first play on a big play or something like that, he’s ecstatic. He loves it.”
Brumfield said the target is to run at least 70 plays per game, and Marion wants them to snap the ball in under 15 seconds between plays. That means they’ll spend a lot of training camp on conditioning, hustling to the ball in no-huddle situations.
“We run a lot,” Brumfield said. “We run so much, especially in this heat. A lot of people think we don’t run in the heat, but we’re out there every morning early, getting in our sprints and extra work. We do extra runs after [practice], just because we want that extra step on our opponent.”
Is Brumfield ready for stardom?
Brumfield flashed star potential last season, especially during the team’s 4-1 start. Injuries took their toll, however, and he finished the year with 1,898 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
He’s now the team’s undisputed starter, and if UNLV is going places this season, it’s going to take a top-level performance from Brumfield.
The passing game looked shaky in the spring; Brumfield completed 6-of-16 passes in the team’s spring showcase, accounting for 100 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. With a full offseason to learn the offense, things should look more efficient in camp.
Brumfield said player-led practices have helped him and his teammates iron out some of the kinks in the meantime.
“The process of switching over to a new staff, it went pretty smooth,” Brumfield said. “A lot of guys bought in pretty early to the new coaching staff and embraced everything they were trying to change.”
Is there a lead running back on the roster?
In each of the last two years, UNLV has relied on a workhorse No. 1 running back to handle the vast majority of carries. In 2022, it was Aidan Robbins, who racked up 1,009 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns while accounting for 74.9% of the running back carries.
Robbins transferred to BYU in the offseason, leaving a sizable hole in the backfield. UNLV returns senior Courtney Reese, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last year, but Reese’s body is more suited to third-down duties (5-foot-8, 165 pounds).
The Scarlet and Gray did add a pair of veterans via the transfer portal in junior Donavyn Lester (William & Mary) and senior Vincent Davis (Pitt). In an offense that features multiple backs, it will be interesting to see how the depth chart evolves throughout camp.
What will the defense look like?
Odom is a defensive coach with a strong reputation for getting the most out of his players, so it’s hard to say at this point what kind of approach he’ll take at UNLV.
Odom prefers a base 3-3-5 defense, but during his time as head coach at Missouri and defensive coordinator at Arkansas he has shifted to a 4-2-5 scheme and also utilized a 3-2-6 alignment.
“A lot of times you adapt to what you roster makeup is,” Odom said. “What last year was — structurally, defensively — it may not be what we’re best at because of our roster and what it is. The really good coaches, over time they adjust to the roster that they have, the strengths that they have.”
Odom prioritizes stopping the run, and his defensive system puts a lot of athletic players in the secondary and relies on them to flow to the ball and close quickly. It worked in the spring game, as the defensive backs combined for six interceptions.
UNLV is going into camp with 23 defensive backs, which gives Odom a lot of options as he works out the best way to utilize the roster.
What is a reasonable goal for this team?
UNLV is in an unusual spot. Most teams that fire their coaches are looking at a rebuilding process, but the Scarlet and Gray don’t see themselves needing to take a step back in 2023.
The team was so close to a bowl game a year ago, and the players and coaches seem convinced they’re ready to compete in Year 1 under Odom.
“I’m excited about the progress that we’ve made as a team,” Odom said. “They are hungry to have a winning team. They’re excited about the things that we’re building together. We’ve got to have great focus and control things with our attitude and effort and work ethic and our togetherness. Those things will help us become a really good football team.”
Brumfield is going even further in his assessment.
In his mind, he believes UNLV is the team that went 4-1 to start last year, and that with just a little more consistency, they can contend at the highest level.
“A Mountain West championship,” he said when asked about his goals for 2023. “For the team, 100 percent a Mountain West championship.”

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