The first of two bye weeks over and done, Fresno State on Sunday set its sights on UNLV and a challenge that they might not have expected before and even into the season.
The Rebels have not finished a season at .500 since going 6-6 in 2003, above it since going 8-5 in 2000, and opened with losses at Minnesota and to Arizona, struggling to score and making a ton of mistakes. In those first two games, they gave up scores on a kickoff return, a blocked field goal return and three times on interception returns.
But they will come into Bulldog Stadium on Saturday riding a four-game winning streak and with an offense that has found something with senior quarterback Caleb Herring, who brings an element to the position that has been a concern for Fresno State and a defense that still is finding itself a bit.
"They're very multiple in what they do, but they utilize quarterback run game, so they'll use some Pistol, some option stuff," Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. "Any time you have teams that do that and incorporate the quarterback in the run game, I think it can put some stress on a defense.
"You absolutely have to be assignment sound. While they don't line up like Air Force does or Cal Poly does, they have aspects of their offense that are triple option-like and so you have to have a guy assigned for the dive, a guy assigned for either the pitch or the pass off all that option, and it's truly triple-option and what it does is put guys in a lot of one-on-one situations.
"If you just turn and hand the ball to a guy, everybody can run to the ball. But if you have to be assignment sound and someone has to be responsible for the quarterback, now you can't just go to the dive. It's the same theory that the read-zone teams are incorporating, they're just doing it a little differently out of Pistol stuff primarily."
The Bulldogs have been hurt by quarterbacks who can move around in the pocket to evade a pass rush, or are part of the run game.
Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick had a 28-yard run in the fourth quarter on the drive the Broncos went ahead 40-34 and had 11 carries for 55 yards, minus sacks. Cal Poly quarterbacks Chris Brown and Vince Moraga also made plays with their feet.
And since Herring replaced starter Nick Sherry after the Rebels' second possession against Central Michigan in the third week of the season, UNLV has gone on what for it has been a major offensive.
The Rebels have gained more than 400 yards in every game of their winning streak and racked up 568 yards in a victory at New Mexico and 579 yards on Saturday in a 39-37 victory over Hawaii, the first time the Rebels have had back-to-back games with 500 or more yards going back through 2000.
For a little more perspective on how lost UNLV has been offensively in that stretch, it had gained fewer than 200 yards of total offense more times (13) than it had gained more than 500 yards (10) coming into the season.
But in the fourth year under coach Bobby Hauck, they appear to be figuring a few things out.
Herring has played well – he came into the season having hit only 54.5% of his passes, but has completed 100 of 144 passes (69.4%) for 1,098 yards with nine touchdowns and only one interception.
In the victory over the Rainbow Warriors, he passed for 385 yards and one touchdown and also had 16 rushing plays, not including three sacks.
UNLV also has a strong back in Tim Cornett, who is averaging 5.4 yards on 123 plays. And it has a receiver in Devante Davis who is ranked second in the Mountain West Conference and 19th in the bowl subdivision in receiving yards per game at 102.3.
"I think that they're finally starting to coach the kids that they recruited, they've been in the system now for four years and they're starting to play like it," DeRuyter said.
"It's not surprising. He's a heck of a coach and they're scoring some points and they're finally learning how to win.
"I thought a year ago they were close in some games, but they didn't know how to win and now they're getting over that hump and finding ways to win games as opposed to just being close."
Bulldogs rise in polls
Fresno State on Sunday made its biggest jump in the Associated Press Top 25 since debuting in the college football rankings four weeks ago.
The Bulldogs, who had a bye last week, moved up to No. 17, an improvement of four spots since last week.
The Top 25 was shaken after seven ranked teams lost Saturday, including five to teams that were unranked or lower ranked.
Fresno State put some distance between it and Northern Illinois, the only other non-AQ team in the Top 25. The Huskies remained at No. 23.
The Bulldogs also moved up three spots in the coaches' poll to No. 19.
Check out the complete polls on Page B4.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rkuwada on Twitter. Read his daily updates at fresnobee.com/bulldogs.