To start off the latter portion of their 2022 Notre Dame football schedule, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish should get a breather when they take on the UNLV Rebels. The matchup marks the first-ever meeting between the two schools, with the Rebels undoubtedly set to enter the contest as a massive underdog.
The two-year tenure of Rebels head coach Marcus Arroyo has been a rough one, with UNLV continuing their past woes by compiling a 2-16 record during that span. Over the past two decades, the school has had just one winning season. That means that simply reaching respectability this season is the main goal, though playing a talented team like the Irish won’t help that quest.
UNLV Offense: Laying It on the (Offensive) Line
Behind center, Harrison Bailey is likely to take over the starting role. He’s a 6-foot-5 transfer from Tennessee who started some games for the Volunteers as a freshman in 2020 but found himself out of the loop last season. Bailey should be backed up by last year’s starter, Cameron Friel, whose touchdown-to-interception ratio is in need of improvement.
One of the few bright spots for UNLV on last year’s 2-10 team was running back Charles Williams, who rushed for 1,261 yards and 15 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he’s gone, with Chad Magyar in the unenviable role of trying to replace him. Magyar had just 13 carries in 2021 and figures to be challenged by Louisville transfer Aidan Robbins who’s 6-foot-3 and weighs 230.
The chief target among receivers for the Rebels is Kyle Williams, who snagged 42 passes to lead all returnees. However, he only found the end zone twice, an issue that plagued the entire UNLV offense. Other wideouts to look for include Kilinahe Mendiola-Jensen and Marcus Phillips, though Zyell Griffin could also serve as a deep threat.
Up front, center Leif Fautanu is the leader of a group that has some experience but lacks the sort of depth needed to improve in the win column. The right side of the line should have Tiger Shanks at tackle and Amani Trigg-Wright at guard. On the left side, Daviyon McDaniel is back and is likely to work in tandem with transfer guard Preston Nichols. How well this group meshes could offer a window into the Rebels’ final record.
UNLV Defense: Fusing a Stronger Front Line a Necessity
Stopping the run and getting a consistent pass rush are issues that help sum up the problems on the defensive line for the Rebels. Anthony Sagapolute will be on the nose and have Naki Fahina on the strong side, while Eliel Ehimare made four stops behind the line last year. A pair of junior college transfers, Keith Conley and Brandon McElroy are two late additions who hope to help bolster the depth.
The four-man linebacking unit will have Austin Ajiake and Jake Beaudry in the middle. Ajiake needs to stay healthy to help the Rebels’ defense improve, with Beaudry having the capability to hit hard and get to the quarterback. Brennon Scott is even better when it comes to sacking quarterbacks from the outside and will be joined by LeShaun Bell. That could change if Florida State transfer Jordan Eubanks shows that he can have an impact.
On the corners, Nohl Williams and Cameron Oliver can be effective with a semblance of a pass rush, but both players only combined for three interceptions last year, with Williams knocking away three passes. At strong safety, Tyson Player knows how to bring ballcarriers down and delivers some strong hits, with Ricky Johnson back at free safety after tying for the team lead in interceptions with three.
UNLV Special Teams: Familiar Faces in Place
Handling both the kickoff and placekicking duties, Daniel Gutierrez has been a part of the UNLV program since 2017 and is coming off his best season, accuracy-wise. Punting chores will once again be performed by Evan Silva, who averaged 40.2 yards on his 52 punts in his first season in the role. As far as returns are concerned, Williams is likely to be seen on both the kickoff and punting units.
The Last Time Notre Dame Faced UNLV
As noted, the contest marks the first time ever that the Irish and Rebels have met either on the field or the basketball court. This game was first announced in March 2020, though the news was overshadowed at the time by the turmoil surrounding the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, two weeks before this game, Notre Dame will be playing in Las Vegas, though their Shamrock Series opponent will be the BYU Cougars.