The underrated offense series last year were my favorite pieces to write. There are so few edges to be gained in college fantasy football that finding a handful could make a difference in selecting players at value and ultimately winning your leagues. The UNLV Rebels are a team that can emerge under these criteria entering the 2023 season.
UNLV Head Coach and Coordinator Changes
The Go-Go Offense
UNLV hired Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo during the COVID season, and through three years, the Rebels went 7-23. UNLV has been to one bowl game since 2000 over five different coaching tenures and now brings in Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom. With Odom comes Brennan Marion as offensive coordinator. For Odom, a longtime defensive coordinator, Marion is a breath of fresh air and an inspiring hire.
Marion, a rising star in the coaching ranks, was a one-time offensive coordinator for William & Mary in 2019, creating the Go-Go offense, one similar-ish to Gus Malzhan’s scheme (Marion’s offensive coordinator at Tulsa), one he developed in his previous tenure at Howard. It relies on mobile quarterback play and has two backs on the field in almost every set. The offensive scheme is one of the more creative in the country, one marrying both triple-option concepts to the spread offense, both schemes he’s intimately familiar with. It also picks up elements from other schemes, including RPO work, but the single biggest differentiator in this offense is unbalanced formations. In his single season at William & Mary, he orchestrated the biggest offensive turnaround at the FCS level following a successful tenure at Howard.
Marion constantly ran uneven formations, splits without eligible receivers on one side of the field, heavy deception based on receiver formations, and creative uses of both running backs. If Marion chooses, he can run for 300+ yards a game with the two back sets. It helps that the two-back formation is more than a simple triple option, it uses outside zone alongside RB tosses. You can read more about the offense here or in Brenan Marion’s book about the offense.
What to Expect in 2023
A key tenant of his scheme will be speed. Marion described the offense in Spring, “We want to play fast,” Marion said. “It doesn’t stop. It’s every day. We don’t ever take a break. We’re always gas.” With the goal of 70+ plays per game, which would easily be top-half in the country, and if Marion gets his way, likely even higher in plays per minute.
The Go-Go scheme relies on two-back sets with three receivers operating horizontally to open space, but it shouldn’t be overlooked how his previous stops have influenced the playcalling. As WR coach under Steve Sarkisian and Mark Whipple, Marion was part of offenses with an average pass rate over-expected of 10%, almost 9% above the national average, and ranking 13th overall. As a receivers coach on these offenses, Marion has the opportunity to take those offenses and incorporate them into a scheme he’s described as flexible and that “you can run every run play that’s ever been created in football.”
Marion might run one of the most creative offenses in college football this season, and as a creative play-caller, his best players will be put in positions to succeed.
Previewing the UNLV Key Positions
Expect Doug Brumfield to return as quarterback for the Rebs this year after playing in 10 games last season under Marcus Arroyo. He returns as the most tenured quarterback, and with Harrison Bailey entering the transfer portal, it looks certain Brumfield will be that guy.
As a recruit, Brumfield was a big (6’5″, 215 lbs.) dual-threat recruit with a strong arm and 700 yards on 190 carries. Last season he amassed 382 yards on 27 designed rushing attempts but was sacked 2.8 times per game in his ten games. Marion wants to run the ball more with the quarterback, evidenced by his work with Cam Newton’s brother Calyn at Howard, who ran for 1,277 yards and 16 touchdowns under Marion. With the expectation of more rushing attempts than Brumfield’s 27 designed rushes last year, he could double or triple his output from last season.
Additionally, with creative playcalling, Newton averaged 8.7 yards per attempt despite a 51% completion percentage with Marion. Creative scheming of his receivers with odd but successful personnel groups opened up passing lanes in the Go-Go offense. He could stretch the field horizontally and vertically with speed and pre-snap movement. There are reasons, evidenced by Marion’s three years at the FCS level, to be tentatively excited about quarterback production in 2023.
The offensive scheme Marion wants to run here shouldn’t overshadow potential receiver production, especially as most formations will have three-wide sets. Leading the group is last year’s returning receiver, Ricky White. White started the season with 319 yards in his first three games but had only 306 over his next nine: inconsistent quarterback play and problems with drops limited White’s role down the stretch. The concerns about his drops still remain. His nine drops led the team, and his 15% drop percentage on 80 targets and consistency are needed to see a true breakout season.
The new same to pay attention to is Jacob De Jesus, a Junior College transfer from Modesto. A breakout star in spring, De Jesus capped the practices with a 10-136-1 line in the spring game, being both the most targeted and productive wide receiver. The diminutive slot option is only 5’7″ but has the speed to beat the defense from the slot the offense lacked last year. He operated in multiple quadrants of the field during spring, catching a 27-yard pass down the seam deep and taking a slant to the house. With his speed, he could become the featured wide receiver for this offense if Williams struggles early on. He’s a great sleeper in deep fantasy drafts.
The depth behind those two consists of Senika McKie and Jeff Weimer, two players who broke out last year and played big roles in the passing game. There’s room for both to be big parts of the receiving game, especially Weimer. He averaged over six targets per contest in six games last season, running mostly from the slot. Like Williams, he struggled with drops but proved to be a primary weapon in the offense, with 22 targets in his last three games. With De Jesus in the slot, Weimer should move outside, given his 6’2″, 215 lb. frame.
As I’ve highlighted, this offense relies heavily on using two back formations. With option elements, there will be plenty of rush attempts. However, the more difficult challenge is figuring out how to divvy them up. Courtney Reese returns after operating as the RB2 behind Aidan Robbins last year. He’s a speedier back which fits the system, and he was efficient at times with 7.3 yards per carry – but will certainly operate in a committee. Reese will be utilized at 5’8″, 155 lbs. but doesn’t have the frame to see >50% of the workload.
Reese will likely share opportunities and the backfield with Pittsburgh transfer Vincent Davis. Another smaller back, Davis, is similar to Reese, where speed is his calling card, but he is a good mover. Both should be quality options in the two-back system, but neither holds much fantasy value over the year, given the expectation that neither can handle a primary back workload.
Although, if a primary running back does emerge, it could be Andrew Wimmer or Spencer Briggs. Both are bigger options and will rotate with the two-RB system throughout the game. Wimmer, a transfer from junior college, led the spring game in yards on 14 carries. On the other hand, Briggs has been in the system for a few years and weighs upwards of 200 lbs. The third option, Jordan Younge-Humphrey, also has experience at UNLV and returns as the second-leading rusher. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of names without a lot of clarity.
The offensive line play last season was somewhat uninspiring as they ranked 98th in sacks allowed per game, 122nd in average line yards, and lost three starters from last year’s team. However, there is some excitement about the unit this year as they brought in multiple impact transfers to the left side of the line. Jalen St. John, the former Arkansas guard, started at left guard, and Buffalo’s Jack Hasz started at center. The right side returned both starters, Amani Trigg-Wright and Tiger Shanks, and performed well in the spring game, helping the rush attack for 170 yards on 4.1 yards per attempt.
How this line performs when the season kicks off is determined, but there was genuine excitement about how this group looked in spring. The biggest question is how Jack Hasz steps in for now-Arizona State center Leif Fautanu. The group struggled last year, and offensive line coach Vance Vice has an uphill battle.