FRESNO STATE KEYS TO SUCCESS
Score — every single possession. The Bulldogs might need a lot of points. But Fresno State has sliced up a lot of defenses at Bulldog Stadium and there is no reason not to eviscerate a struggling Nevada unit ranked 94th in passing efficiency defense and 122nd against the run, allowing 269.9 yards per game on the ground.
NEVADA KEYS TO SUCCESS
Beat the Bulldogs over the top. The Wolf Pack has picked up their passing game, gaining 1,347 yards over the past four games after only 738 in the first four. With young cornerbacks and a thin secondary this is a concern for Fresno State, which has allowed 42 explosive plays with 32 of them coming on pass plays.
-- Stopping Fajardo: Fresno State would appear to have a difficult task tonight in dismantling a Nevada offense that has an array of weaponry, starting with quarterback Cody Fajardo.
Fajardo has thrown for 300 or more yards in three of the past four games, set a Mountain West Conference record with 193 consecutive passes without an interception and in his career the junior has racked up more than 8,000 yards of total offense and more than 6,000 passing yards.
But in trying to take apart the Nevada offense, the Bulldogs will start right there.
"You have to do a good job in your underneath coverage, and we have to continue to get better at that and continue to change our looks on defense so he's not shooting fish in a barrel," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "He's going to have to read some things under some duress and other times have some extra time and have to figure out what we're doing. If we do a good job of changing the tempo in his head, I think it will help us."
Fresno State was able to do that a year ago, on an icy night in Reno. The Bulldogs gave Fajardo a lot of looks and defended the zone read well, and he ended up hitting on a season-low 53.8% of his passes (21 of 39) and threw two interceptions — with one returned 34 yards for a touchdown by safety Derron Smith. Fajardo also gained only 59 yards rushing on 22 plays, a season-low 2.7 yards per play.
If the Bulldogs can duplicate that effort, it will alleviate some of the pressure on young cornerbacks Curtis Riley and Jamal Ellis and go a long way in extending their winning streak to eight games.
"They've been throwing the heck out of the ball, but there are a lot of facets to playing defense," DeRuyter said. "You have to get pressure on quarterbacks, you have to get them in predictable down and distances to play better pass defense, and hopefully we'll do that."
-- Tracking Sweeney: Bulldogs senior quarterback Derek Carr is just 475 yards away from passing Kevin Sweeney and becoming the all-time passing leader in Fresno State history.
Sweeney threw for 10,808 yards from 1983 to '86, while Carr has 10,334. He already has set 16 school record and 17 Mountain West Conference records.
Nevada, meanwhile, is ranked 93rd in passing efficiency defense and has allowed 52 explosive plays of 20 yards or more, including 26 on pass plays.
-- Record pace: Receiver Davante Adams has caught 36 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns over the Bulldogs' past three games — only five other players in the bowl subdivision have more touchdown receptions this season than the sophomore has had in victories at Idaho, against UNLV and at San Diego State.
He has set the school record for career touchdown receptions with 27 in only 20 games, and with those past three games is in position to match the old school record in just one season (Henry Ellard, Charlie Jones and Bernard Berrian all had 25 touchdown receptions for the Bulldogs).
Adams has 13 through seven games and has five more guaranteed and possibly a sixth. Fresno State has four regular-season games remaining, is bowl-eligible and can play in the conference title game.
It might seem far-fetched to catch 25 touchdown passes in one season — the NCAA record is 27, set in 1998 by Louisiana Tech receiver Troy Edwards.
But just last year Steadman Bailey of West Virginia caught 25 touchdown passes in 13 games and at the same point in the season, had 14 touchdown receptions, just one more than Adams.
-- Rookie action: Nevada has 27 players who have made their college debuts this season, including six true freshmen.
The Wolf Pack had four true freshmen play in their opener at UCLA, matching the number that they had play over the past four seasons combined.
-- Corner challenge: Riley and Ellis have had solid weeks on the practice field, but they will face some challenges against the Nevada receivers, particularly sixth-year senior Brandon Wimberly.
Wimberly, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing the 2011 season with a foot injury, has caught at least one pass in 48 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation. He has 225 career receptions.
"I think the more reps they both get the more confidence they get," DeRuyter said. "At some point it's going to click in their heads, because both of them have the athletic ability. It's just a matter of translating practice to the game and playing with that same confidence.
"Maybe you realize when you're backed up in that corner that, 'I guess it's me. I better start playing.' But I think our coaches are doing a good job of getting them confidence, putting them in good positions and having them understand where their leverage needs to be, where their help is. And if they'll continue to develop, I like both of those guys as corners."
THIS DATE IN BULLDOGS HISTORY: NOV. 2, 1940 VS. NEVADA
It seemed harmless enough at the time.
Dale Mickelwaite, described by The Bee's Ed W. Orman as a "little Fresno guard," booted the football through the goal posts out of the hold of captain Ernie Poore following a second-quarter touchdown for Fresno State.
But that would be the last point the Bulldogs would need while entertaining the "hardest driving and fastest moving" team they had faced to this point in the 1940 season — the Nevada Wolves.
Fresno State scored first, marching 52 yards for what proved to be the game-winning score. Poore, returning after a three-game absence because of a knee injury, had a key 10-yard run during a drive that was capped by sophomore fullback Ray Patterson's 1-yard plunge.
Nevada countered later in the second quarter with a 54-yard scoring march that culminated with halfback Orrin Bennett throwing a long pass to end Dick Miller behind the goal line.
Miller was then called on to try the extra point, but his kick was low, leaving Fresno State ahead 7-6 en route to the Wolves losing their first game of the season before a crowd of 9,000.
The Bulldogs defense — led by ends Jim Melich and little All-American Jack Mulkey — would turn Nevada away time after time the rest of the way, getting a particularly big stop in the fourth quarter after a bouncing punt struck Patterson in the back and was recovered by the Wolves at Fresno State's 44. Nevada advanced to the Bulldogs' 12 before stopping the threat.
The Wolves ended up earning more first downs than the Bulldogs (11 to 7), and Nevada didn't commit a fumble while Fresno State had two.
But the Bulldogs held the Wolves to 110 yards rushing and 37 passing.
For Fresno State coach Jimmy Bradshaw, the Bulldogs gave him a hard-fought victory over his alma mater, where he had starred in the 1920s.
Learn more about the game while listening to Paul Loeffler on "Gameday Live" on KFIG (AM 940) starting at 4:30 p.m. today.