Well folks, here we are on another Thursday and somehow, some way, we’re about to once again put ourselves through the emotional roller coaster of watching the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team “play” another game on Saturday.
We’re all still trying to wash away the horrible game we saw last weekend when the Irish fell at home to Stanford by an ugly 16-14 final score.
But this is a new weekend and a new opponent, as the Irish play host to the 4-3 UNLV Rebels, who got off to an uncharacteristically strong 4-1 beginning to their year before losing their last two games (against San Jose State and Air Force, who are a combined 9-3) by a two-week score of 82-14. A week ago, I think most of us had settled on this being a gimme game and one the Irish could win in a blowout, but last weekend in conjunction with the Marshall effort made it clear that this Notre Dame team’s inconsistency make this impossible to predict.
So, to help us better prepare for the very realistic possibility of the Rebels giving the Irish a great game on Saturday, we reached out to Jos Fagundes, a staff writer at Mountain West Connection who handles their UNLV coverage. We tossed A LOT at Jos, from questions about the head coach, to the team, to lots of angsty questions our loyal followers submitted as they worked through their Stanford emotions on Sunday. Jos delivered, giving us some excellent insight into this opponent and being a great sport on all the weird and inane stuff we like to push on our weekly interviewees.
With all the above said, let’s jump into it to better understand UNLV and whether this could end up being another close, potentially ugly game for the Irish.
1. Let’s start with third-year head coach Marcus Arroyo. He’s got the Rebels at 4-3 this season after going 2-16 in his first 18 games as coach. How has he been able to get the program a bit more turned around so far in 2022, how do Rebels fans feel about him, and what do you see as the ceiling of the program under his watch?
MWCC: Coach Arroyo brings a sense of comradery when it comes to his players and I think that is why they are playing better than they have in the past. A lot of his recruits from high school and junior college have played together before — for example, this year he brought in a few guys from San Francisco City College.
Usually it takes a year or two for a coach to settle in and some of the older players weren’t his recruits. It worked the opposite way at Fresno State when Pat Hill left in 2012. Derek Carr and Davante Adams were some of Pat Hill’s recruits, but had their best years under DeRuyter. After they left, Fresno couldn’t get above .500 under DeRuyter.
I think the fans are behind him and have been patient as he settles in and gets his guys going. I believe under Arroyo the Rebels could be a team who makes it to multiple bowl games in the future.
2. What does QB Doug Brumfield do best, and how should the ND defense best approach trying to shut him down/disrupt him? Also, who are the other names to know on the Rebels offense?
MWCC: Doug Brumfield’s best attribute is his, what I like to call, Lamar Jacksonness. He is able to beat you through the air or with his legs. His best games this year he has had multiple passing and rushing touchdowns. If he plays (because he has been hurt the past few weeks), Notre Dame has to look to contain him in the pocket so he can’t improvise and beat them with his legs.
Another guy Notre Dame will have to worry about is transfer RB Aidan Robbins from Louisville. He has been on one this year being the team’s leading rusher in almost every game this year. The last two he has struggled because Brumfield has been out, but if Brumfield plays, Robbins is a guy to keep your eye on.
3. What position groups and individuals are the strongest on the UNLV defense, and where is that unit weakest?
MWCC: It’s not so much the separate units that have been strong and weak. It’s more of the defense against certain parts of the game. I think the DBs and LBs in the pass game are strong because they have contained QBs so far this year. The run defense has struggled recently giving up a lot of 100-yard rushing games to RBs, even in UNLV wins.
4. This almost seems like a laughable question after losing at home to Stanford, but who on the Notre Dame side scares you most heading into this game?
MWCC: Honestly the QB Drew Pyne and WR Michael Mayor combo. They seem to be clicking well even in games they have lost. Pyne has a high floor in this game and I expect him to throw for at least 200 yards and a touchdown.*
*Pat Rick Note: I think I speak for all Irish fans when I say “I’ll have what he’s having!”
5. FAN QUESTION:
Is the UNLV fanbase offended that Notre Dame played another team in their home stadium but would never play them there?— Jude (@ndjrs) October 16, 2022
Also: How does it feel to be the proverbial “team to be named later” in a deal that was actually between Cal and Notre Dame?
MWCC: A little bit… Notre Dame will come to Vegas to play a school closer to them, but will make Vegas travel to South Bend? Doesn’t make sense, but at least UNLV is making some money off this game, hopefully.
And about the movement of the UNLV and Cal game just gives the Rebels a little more fire to beat the Fighting Irish, because UNLV was an interception away from beating the Cal Bears.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Would they trade their 3 FBS wins(North Texas, Utah State, New Mexico) to join Marshall and Stanford by having their only FBS victory be Notre Dame?— Brendan (@verypiratey) October 16, 2022
MWCC: No, I wouldn’t. Those 3 FBS wins gave the Rebels confidence and a solid start to the season.
7. FAN QUESTION:
Can they bring their giant sideline slot machine to South Bend?— Paul Mazur (@PaulMazur6) October 17, 2022
MWCC: Yes, of course. The slot machine is electric.
8. FAN QUESTION:
Rank the following 4 letter acronyms starting with U:— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) October 16, 2022
UNLV, UTSA, UTEP, UCLA
MWCC: UCLA, UNLV, UTSA, UTEP
9. FAN QUESTION:
Is Larry Johnson available this week or still 50 yrs old because if so ohmygod— Tim O'Malley (@timomalleyND) October 16, 2022
MWCC: He’s still 50.
10. FAN QUESTION:
Is Ickey Woods the Greatest UNLV football player of all-time ? https://t.co/n8mf0yo39q— JAREDSBACKUP. (@jaredsbackup22) October 16, 2022
MWCC: It’s Ickey or Randall Cunnigham I’d say.
The Ickey Shuffle was electric though so I’ll have to give it to Ickey.
11. Angsty/Self-Deprecating Fan Questions That I Bucketed Into One Big Question So That Jos Could Respond to All of Them At Once However He Saw Fit
Were there any sightings of the Irish football team in Vegas last week because they forgot to come back to South Bend ?— ☘️mike (@LoveTheIrish365) October 17, 2022
What local Vegas area High School D Coordinator is being consulted to help stop the ND offense this week?— Jeff Devlin (@MrJeffDevlin) October 17, 2022
Does UNLV have a living, breathing defense?— Clancy the Notre Dame Leprechaun (@UND_Clancy) October 16, 2022
Do they normally field 11 on each side? Because if so, it may be a pick em game.— Andrew decarbon Graceffa ️ (@AndrewGraceffa) October 16, 2022
Can they take Tommy Rees off our hands— Ryan Andrews (@RyanA202021) October 16, 2022
Does their defensive staff understand that every single 3rd down play Tommy Rees calls is going to be more predictable than the last?— Casey (@Casey_Owen) October 16, 2022
Don’t let him know we only throw to a double covered Mayer.— TJ (@tejen25) October 16, 2022
Ask them if they plan to load 9 in the box defensively, if they do gonna be a a 4 quarter battle. Or ask if they work on punching the ball out if they do can definitely force turnovers as well.— Ryan Palazotto (@Ryanpalazotto9) October 16, 2022
Do they have a celebration ready for when they hold on to win by 2 after a Blake gruppe 58 yard field goal falls short?— ryan (@ryan_hoffman_) October 17, 2022
MWCC: I think I saw a few coming out of the Bellagio. They looked like they’d been on the tables for a few days.
I think UNLV did, but I won’t tell you who so Notre Dame can game plan against him.
There is a defense and yes there will be 11 one each side.
No, y’all can keep him and we have film so we know what’s coming before Rees does.
That’s fine because there will be a guy there to get the pick when Pyne underthrows it.
We’re gonna give some looks the offense hasn’t seen before, but don’t be afraid to run the ball after what happened to the Rebels last week against the triple-option of Air Force.
And I think they had Charles “Peanut” Tillman teach a ball punching class at UNLV for 1 credit.
Yeah we got a celebration, it’s called the slot machine and we’re bringing it.
12. Alright, time to get down to it: what’s your prediction for this game? Who wins, what’s the final score, and give your reasoning why.
MWCC: This game is going to be a 4 quarter battle if UNLV can be an offensive team. I’m looking for the game to be high scoring.
My prediction is 30-28, Notre Dame, because I think, especially in college games, home-field is a big thing. The students are there, fired up, and ready to get loud.
Okey dokey, well I wanna give another huge shout-out to Jos for all his great responses and dealing with a deluge of “hold me I’m Irish” tweets in this Q&A — he’s truly a gentleman and a scholar for the knowledge and grace he showed in his answers.
I implore you all to head over to Mountain West Connection to check out all the great coverage they’ve got going on for this UNLV @ ND match-up, as well as all the great content they put out about everyone else in the Mountain West.
Furthermore, be sure to follow the site account on Twitter as well as Jos (and his The Fagundes Focus account) for any and all late-breaking news and notes heading into this game and in coverage of the MWC in general.
That’s all for this week, folks — until next time, Go Irish, Beat Rebels (please)!