The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind Enemy Bylines: UNLV Rebels

The Vanderbilt Hustler spoke with Ryan Gilder, Sports Editor of the Scarlet & Gray Free Press, to preview Vanderbilt’s upcoming matchup with UNLV.
Will+Sheppard+celebrates+one+of+his+two+touchdown+receptions+against+Wake+Forest+on+Sept.+9%2C+2023+%28Vanderbilt+Athletics%29.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Will Sheppard celebrates one of his two touchdown receptions against Wake Forest on Sept. 9, 2023 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

The Vanderbilt Commodores (2-1) are looking to rebound from their 36-20 Week Two defeat at the hands of Wake Forest. The Commodores played sloppy football throughout the game in Winston-Salem, N.C. on both sides of the ball. Now, Vanderbilt travels to Las Vegas for a matchup against UNLV at Allegiant Stadium on Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. CDT.

The Rebels are 1-1, coming off a 35-7 defeat at No. 2 Michigan in Ann Arbor. UNLV did beat FCS Bryant in their opening matchup, 44-14.

To preview Saturday’s clash, the Hustler spoke with Ryan Gilder, Sports Editor of the Scarlet & Gray Free Press.

Vanderbilt Hustler: The Rebels struggled last week against No. 2 Michigan. How do you think they will bounce back against Vanderbilt after such a difficult loss?

Ryan Gilder:  Here’s a good thing. They did cover the spread. Let’s talk about that. They did cover the spread of 36. I know that they didn’t handle them pretty easily also. Jordan Younge-Humphrey, he’s their fifth-string running back. Both games last year against Notre Dame and then this year against Michigan, fifth-string running back goes in and gets the big touchdown. So I think that was pretty cool. But how do we bounce back from a loss like that? I mean, you go into games like that, it’s really David versus Goliath. And this week against Vanderbilt, it’s not as much of a Goliath. I know you guys are a power five or not, but it’s like facing someone that you are… It’s such a dynamic matchup playing against Michigan and then next week playing against Vanderbilt or playing against a Mountain West opponent. So I think that last week’s game against Michigan, like Barry Odom said, does not define the team. The only thing that this game against Michigan takes away from UNLV is that they will not qualify for a national championship. That’s the only thing. But Barry Odom said, other than a national championship, all of our goals are still ahead of us. I would say I wouldn’t take much from the loss against Michigan. We took the $1.8 million that they gave us and went back home.

VH: The Rebels’ Quarterback Doug Brumfield has struggled in the past two games, as he has yet to throw a touchdown all season and has an average QBR of 31.3, placing him No. 116 in college football. How do you think he will perform facing this Commodores defense?

RG: I’m pretty shocked that he was doing that for the first two games because last year, Doug Brumfield, actually two years ago, he was the backup quarterback. And he went into the game against Eastern Washington, FCS school, and he played really well in the second half. Didn’t quite get the victory, but he did a really good job of leading a comeback for UNLV and he earned a spot. But the issue is that he always gets hurt. Last year, he was the starter going into the school year, did a really good job. Then he got hurt. But this year, he goes into it. Everyone’s thinking, ‘Okay, the dual threat quarterback, 6’6 quarterback, he could do everything.’ But the issue is that he can’t throw the ball very well right now. First two games, a lot of overthrowing. He’s good at throwing on the sidelines, though. He’ll throw those 10-12 yard little hitch routes pretty well. But throwing over the middle of the field, that’s been a little bit hard for him to do. He hasn’t been very good at doing that. We’ll see what happens this week if there’s any adjustment made. But based on what I’ve been hearing from sources I have with the team, it’s not been looking very good with Doug. But don’t count them out because if Doug Brumfield was able to hit with his passes, I know you said he has zero passing touchdowns, but he does have a rushing touchdown.

So he’s able to run the ball. He’s able to run really good. He’s able to run through some people. He’s able to do it. He’s 6’6. Think of him as a hybrid between Cam and Josh Allen, where he doesn’t have any fear when going into defenders. He’ll try to run through some people, and he does. But the problem is that he gets himself hurt when he does it too often. So he has to play the happy medium and also be able to throw the ball.

VH: Michigan Quarterback J.J. McCarthy had his way against the UNLV defense last week, posting 278 yards and two touchdowns. This week, they are facing AJ Swann, who, despite the loss to Wake Forest, had his best game of the season with over 300 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. What will UNLV do differently this week to prevent another passing disaster?

RG: It’s pretty difficult, too. It really is. If you’re giving up a couple of hundred yards to Zevi Eckhaus from Bryant University in Rhode Island, it’s going to be pretty difficult to stop JJ McCarthy. It’s also going to be tough to stop AJ Swann. The way how I look at it is I think that UNLV’s defense has got to be able to understand their system a little bit more. They play a little bit of cloud coverage. They got to understand the rules. They got to play it perfectly. Because if you don’t play cloud coverage perfectly, you leave large holes of the field open without getting to the quarterback, which means that the quarterback, one, has time, and two, is able to throw to an open receiver. Both of those things you can’t do. So UNLV, they’re really based on getting that cloud coverage and making the quarterback make the wrong decision. It’s been very tough to do for the first two games. What I’m looking forward to this week, if I’m looking at UNLV’s defense, is let’s see if everyone’s able to fulfill their assignments, and if someone on the defensive line or inside the box is able to go outside of their responsibilities and do a little bit more to cause some havoc. That person I really look forward to this week is Jackson Woodard. He pressured JJ McCarthy a couple of times, got a batted pass against Michigan. So I would look to see if he’s able to wreak some more havoc against Vanderbilt.

VH: Because of some injuries to the offensive line, including former Arkansas transfer Jalen St. John and starting left guard Alani Makihele, the UNLV offense has allowed six sacks in the last two games. Fortunately for the team, both starters returned to practice on Monday. How do you think this will affect the offensive production?

RG: I’m really not concerned. They gave up five sacks against Michigan. I’ll have to say mostly all of those came against Michigan, and it was ugly against Michigan. But if you look at Michigan’s defensive line and read off the backups, that would intimidate everyone at UNLV. That’s without even touching their starters. I think it was really a mismatch going into it. To take the season stats of UNLV right now is hard to do. I’ll give it a couple of weeks until I even look at the season stats. With the offensive line, it’s really on how they’re able just to give Doug an extra second. Because remember, Doug, he tries to make a play out of everything, so he’ll hold on to the ball too long. I would say half of it is the offensive line having to figure it out. But I think a little bit more like if you try to do percentage, I’ll say 51% of it. So the real reason, the bigger reason, I think, is that Doug holds on to the ball too long. He tries to make an extra play when reality should be throwing it away instead of taking a big hit and getting himself hurt again.

VH: Is he playing a little too much hero ball, you would say?

RG: I would say last year he did. And then this year, week one, he looked like, okay, he’s a little bit more calm. Did a couple overthrows I didn’t like. But then the craziest play was with 19 seconds to go in the half. He runs around with the ball for about 10 seconds. Then he tries to run into the end zone. Remember, there’s no timeouts. Clock is going. He has to get himself into the end zone or else the clock will expire. He tiptoes all the way from the seven-yard line. He still has an opportunity to go out of bounds. He doesn’t. He tries to go. He lays down the lumber and gets into the end zone. He got the touchdown. But I was broadcasting it, and I was like, Oh, my goodness. I would have not done 90% of it, but it worked. But it worked against an FCS team in Bryant. Would that work against Vanderbilt? No. Would that work against Michigan? No. He would have been down about 20 seconds ago. I would say he does play a little bit of hero ball. But at UNLV Football, when you have to defeat a big opponent, you kind of have to sometimes.

VH: The Las Vegas review wrote a piece about the UNLV football season so far, stating that the team is in desperate need of an identity, as they look lost as a team. If you were to characterize the team’s identity so far, how would you do so? 

RG: I would call it a cowboy offense. And here’s why. In the Midwest, there’s a lot of things that are cool. It’s like a go-go offense. You think of spread offense, but also with the run game. Because normally we think of a spread offense, you’re like, okay, a lot of passing, some cool run plays, but you think about it with the pass game. But with this go-go offense, and also I say that because our offense coordinator, [Brennan] Marion, he always wears a cowboy hat and he calls Donavyn Lester, our starting running back, the Senator. I think it fits the identity of the team, giving it that Midwest type vibe. But it’s really weird. Our offense, you have a quarterback and then you have a running back to the right of him and then to the right of that running back another running back. Super weird. Instead of having a quarterback then a running back on the left, a running back on the right, which you see sometimes you have two running backs to the right of the quarterback and he hands it off to one of them. It’s super weird. Sometimes it’s successful. The first play for UNLV this season, a touchdown on a 75-yard run from our fourth-string running back, Vincent Davis. But then there’s times where they get stuck behind the offensive line because one, the offensive line doesn’t do their job and two, the plays take longer to develop because there’s a lot of misdirection from this UNLV offense. If I was to give this offense a name, I’ll call it like the cowboy of misdirection because they depend a lot on misdirection.

VH: What do you think the final score will be on Saturday?

RG: Well, here’s what I like to do. Whenever it comes to these things on podcasts, on interviews, anything, I say how both teams could win and I’ll give the score to how each team would win. Because then I don’t look stupid either way. It’s like a failsafe for myself. I think if UNLV wins, it’ll be similar to what I said against Michigan. Even though it’s not really the same teams at all, it’s I think the same way that they could win. Low scoring. I don’t think UNLV is going to go into a high-scoring shootout against Vanderbilt. I just don’t see it happening. I think that if UNLV wins, they’ll be mostly dependent on their defense doing a good job holding your quarterback, AJ Swann, to under 250 yards. Bending but not breaking, giving up field goals but not touchdowns, and then UNLV scoring touchdowns and getting one or two of them late in the game by using some misdirection on their offense. I think that if Vanderbilt wins, I think it’ll be ugly. I think it will be a big Vanderbilt win if they get to win. I think that if Vanderbilt wins, it’ll be 35-17. But if UNLV wins, I think it’ll be a really low-scoring game where it’s going to be 21-18. So it’ll be one of those games where Vanderbilt wasn’t able to find the end zone and UNLV wasn’t able to find the end zone. But if Vanderbilt wins, I think they’re going to be able to find the end zone and they’re going to do it a lot and UNLV can’t keep up with it.

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About the Contributor
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
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