Fresno State converted just 1 of 4 fourth-down plays Saturday in its 41-23 victory against Nevada, the Bulldogs' largest number of such attempts in a game all year.
The aggressive, but generally risky calls could have provided the knockout blow needed to put away Nevada earlier in the game. But instead, it helped the Wolf Pack linger a little longer in what wound up a one-possession game until the Bulldogs pulled away in the final 6 minutes.
"When coach (Tim DeRuyter) trusts us to go for it on fourth down, we've got to get it," quarterback Derek Carr said. "He's trusting us. We've got to go get that for him. We got to do a better job."
So don't expect the 17th-ranked Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 Mountain West) to back off anytime soon. For the season, Fresno State has been one of the best at converting fourth downs, its rate of 64.7% (11 of 17) tied for 16th in the country.
And next up is Wyoming (4-4, 2-2), which has allowed 12 of 18 opponents' attempts to be converted. That is tied with Ball State for most in the nation.
The teams will meet Saturday night in Laramie, Wyo., in a game that could hinge on critical decisions.
Two of Fresno State's three road contests have been decided by less than a touchdown and on the game's final play.
Other factors also could make it Fresno State's toughest road test all year and leave little margin for error, with game-time temperatures forecast to be about 28 degrees and the Cowboys off a bye having two weeks to prepare for the Bulldogs.
DeRuyter promises to remain aggressive.
"We're a team that's going to go for it on fourth down," DeRuyter said. "I've got confidence in our offense, confidence in our defense if we don't get it.
"You're not going to get 100% of them. But I think you're going to get a big enough percentage that we're going to take those risks."
To Fresno State's credit, the Bulldogs have not been penalized all season during a fourth-down attempt.
And on Fresno State's 11 fourth-down conversions, the Bulldogs have gone on to score a touchdown 10 times.
On the flip side, among the Bulldogs' six failed attempts on fourth down, Fresno State twice went on to surrender a touchdown on the opponent's ensuing possession.
"I love it," Carr said. "It's coach DeRuyter's confidence in trusting (offensive coordinator Dave) Schramm and us doing the right things. I think that it says he's very gutsy, he's very confident in what we do. But we've got to get better. We've got to help him out, we got to help the defense out."
It remains to be seen whether Fresno State's latest struggles will continue as opposing cornerbacks continue to play physical at the line to prevent the Bulldogs receivers from making fourth-down plays.
DeRuyter makes the call if and when Fresno State will go for it on fourth downs, usually basing his decisions on distance and position on the field.
But if a struggling Wyoming defense repeats what Nevada accomplished, might the Bulldogs start taking a more conservative approach?
"We weren't good the other night," Schramm said. "We've been good all year long. The other night we weren't. Bad-play calls and we didn't execute. We got to fix that."
Defense provides backup
One factor that helps ease the stress of going for it on fourth down is how the defense does on the next series when it doesn't work. Here is a look at Fresno State's numbers in those situations.
-- 2013, the offense is 11 of 17. Of six failed fourth-down plays, the defense has forced four punts and allowed two scores
-- 2012, they were 16 of 32. Of 16 failed fourth-down plays, the defense forced eight punts, four turnovers and allowed one score. Two opponent drives were ended by end of half, one by a missed field goal.
-- Total, of 22 failed fourth-down plays, defense has forced 12 punts, four turnovers and allowed three scores. Two opponent's drives were ended by end of half, one by a missed field goal.
FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
Saturday: 7:15 p.m. in Laramie, Wyo. (ESPN2)
Records: Bulldogs 8-0, 5-0 MWC; Cowboys 4-4, 2-2
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6362, email@example.com or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.