Fresno State Keys to Success
Keep tabs on QB Caleb Herring, who can take advantage of the Bulldogs' penchant for giving up big plays — they have allowed 34 of 20 yards or longer, ranking 10th in the nation. Herring, back behind center after a move to wideout last year, has made a difference as a run threat, and has hit 69.4% of his passes for 1,098 yards, nine TDs.
UNLV Keys to Success
Hit the quarterback. If the Rebels play the pass as they have been, bringing pressures and leaving the corners in man, they better get there. If not, Derek Carr is as good against the blitz as anyone in the country. UNLV is No. 7 nationally in passing yards allowed, but has played teams ranked 86th, 112th, 119th and 122nd in passing.
** Pocketful of trouble: Fresno State has had some trouble this season with quarterbacks eluding the Bulldogs' pass rush, extending and then making plays with their feet or throwing the ball down the field. But they have yet to face one as adept as the Rebels' Caleb Herring. And while Herring has hit on a high percentage of his passes and has nine touchdowns to only one interception, the run game might be tougher to deal with.
"He's a handful. He's going to extend plays getting out of the pocket," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. "It's a challenge for us. He's not the best passer, but he's certainly the most dynamic all-around quarterback that we've played. When he runs, he can run away from you a little bit. He can stretch that stride out. Some of the guys we've played are athletic, but I think he has a little more wiggle than most of the guys that we've played so far.
"It's definitely a concern, because they're spreading people out. They're making you defend the whole field laterally and they're getting him matched up with guys that you might not want him matched up with. You've got to be concerned about him running the football, and when you take away him, they've got a tailback (Tim Cornett) that's as good as anybody that we've played."
The Bulldogs go in looking to hit Herring, when he runs and when he drops back to throw. But, for a defense that has had some issues fitting runs, being assignment-sound is paramount.
"It just takes one guy to be wrong," Toth said. "When you play option teams, it's hard to have guys make up for other guys' mistakes because everyone has their own assignment. It's very specific. So we have to be really good inside at fitting that run and we have to be really strong on the perimeter when he decides to put the ball out there, whether it's him or he's throwing it out there and then be good down the field because they've got two good targets out there."
** Busting out the BCS: The first BCS rankings will be released Sunday and when asked about it, Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter drowned his questioner in a humorous sea of sarcasm. He's not the least bit curious, but for Fresno State there is not a lot of mystery on the road to a potential big-money bowl game.
If the Bulldogs win out, they will have a chance. If they don't, they won't. It's that simple.
To gain an automatic berth in a BCS bowl, Fresno State would have to finish in the top 12 in the final BCS standings or in the top 16 while ranked higher than the champion from one of the automatic-qualifying conferences — the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or the Southeastern.
Jerry Palm, the BCS analyst for CBS Sports, has the Bulldogs projected at No. 20 in the BCS standings this week, one spot behind Northern Illinois, another non-AQ hopeful.
** Rebels find happiness in winning: UNLV comes in today riding a four-game winning streak, its longest in a regular season since 1984, and having a bit more fun than the past few years when going 2-11, 2-10 and 2-11.
"I'll go ahead and say it, winning is fun," linebacker Tim Hasson said at the Rebels' weekly news conference. "Everybody plays this game to win and when you win you feel better, you feel like you're doing something right because you are. You're supposed to go out there and win. That 'W' pretty much confirms that you're doing the right thing and it's just a great feeling."
DeRuyter didn't seem too concerned.
"Our guys play pretty well at home, as well," he said. "We're on a pretty good streak. When the crowd is here and alive like it was last time, our guys get great energy from that. Hopefully, we'll start fast and get them behind the 8-ball a little bit."
** Home cooking: Fresno State looks to go 10-0 at home under DeRuyter. It has not won 10 straight at Bulldog Stadium since winning 17 in a row from 1998-2001.
Its current streak is the seventh-longest active run in the nation behind Northern Illinois (23 in a row), Michigan (18), South Carolina (14), Ohio State (12), Stanford (12) and Florida (10).
UNLV on the road? That's at the opposite extreme. The Rebels broke a 23-game road losing streak earlier this season with a 56-42 win at New Mexico. In those defeats, they lost by an average score of 43-12.
Carr on the charts: On the Derek Carr record watch, the Fresno State quarterback can set two more school marks on Homecoming Saturday. He has thrown 82 TD passes, two behind career leader Paul Pinegar with 84. And he has 816 career completions, 32 behind Pinegar with 848.
THIS DATE IN BULLDOGS HISTORY: OCT. 19, 1973, VS. LONG BEACH STATE
When you're 0-6, who cares how you win or against whom? That's especially true for a rookie coach like J.R. Boone, who in the first of his three seasons in charge of the Fresno State football team was still looking for win No. 1 in front of a crowd of 2,500 on a Friday night in Long Beach.
The 49ers had a tie but also were without a win at 0-5-1. Still, it was Long Beach State's game to win after Fresno City College and Edison High product Curtiss Wright returned an interception 28 yards to erase what was left of a 9-0 halftime lead and put the 49ers up 14-9 in the third quarter.
To the rescue rode Rod Kraft, in relief of fellow freshman Rich Wathen at quarterback. Wathen went 7 of 10 for 99 yards but took a blow on the Wright pick. Kraft — now one of Fresno State's team doctors — came on in the second half and with the help of linebacker Dennis Tripp's fumble recovery, led the Bulldogs on a go-ahead eight-play, 57-yard drive. Kraft's pass to flanker Curt Wurst covered the final 9 yards and despite a failed 2-point try Fresno State led 15-14.
Long Beach State tried but missed a 35-yard field goal with 4:05 to play and Boone had his inaugural victory — though just one more, 54-24 in the season finale against Cal State Northridge, would follow that year. Boone coached for two more seasons, before Jim Sweeney arrived for the first of his two stints with the Bulldogs.
There were other heroes that day in Long Beach, with halfback Ron Parker rushing 30 times for 87 yards as Fresno State outgained the 49ers 146-31 on the ground. Craig Holworthy averaged 46 yards on 10 punts — four of them going for 50-plus.
"We didn't think we could run on them, but we did," Boone was quoted by The Bee's Eddie Lopez. "We planned the pass, but the run came easier than we thought it would so we went with it. … Our kids, I thought, showed good poise. We felt we had them at the half, but they scored twice before we could get organized."
Learn more about the game while listening to Paul Loeffler on "Gameday Live" on KFIG (AM 940) starting at 4 p.m. Saturday.