Fresno State is 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference and has a chance Saturday to get to 3-0 for the first time since 2013 with New Mexico coming to Bulldog Stadium.
The Lobos represent a significant step up, though, from what the Bulldogs have faced so far in the Mountain West.
New Mexico also is in a much different spot in its sixth season under coach Bob Davie than when it last played in Fresno. That was 2013, Davie’s second season, and it wasn’t close. Fresno State, with quarterback Derek Carr playing on his Senior Day, rolled up 822 yards of offense in a 69-28 victory.
Carr threw seven touchdown passes.
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The Bulldogs and Lobos don’t figure to come close to scoring 100 points again, but no matter the total they’re likely to be distributed much more evenly.
Here are four things to watch:
1. Accuracy matters
New Mexico is eighth in the Mountain West in passing defense, though it has faced two offenses near the bottom of the national rankings in passing offense in Tulsa (102nd) and Air Force (120th), a third in the bottom half in Boise State (77th) and a championship subdivision opponent in Abilene Christian.
The Lobos’ opponents have hit 60.2 percent of their passes and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt and 10.4 yards per completion. They also have allowed 11 touchdown passes.
There is some question whether the Bulldogs can take advantage, though, given wildly disparate results with quarterback Marcus McMaryion in two starts.
In a victory over Nevada, McMaryion ripped off 12 consecutive completions and got to halftime 21 of 24 for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
But in the second half of that game he was 4 of 9 for 36 yards with an interception, and in a victory at San Jose State he made 15 of 26 passes for 136 yards.
They’re an option team, lot of confusion. They have a lot of fast guys, a lot fo kids with talent, so it’s going to be a real good game.
Fresno State linebacker Jeffrey Allison
In his time at Oregon State, in games in which he threw 15 or more passes, McMaryion completed better than 65.0 percent three times and less than 53.0 percent four times.
2. In a rush?
It’s not a mystery what New Mexico wants to do and is good at with its triple-option offense. But the Lobos’ prospects change quite a bit when behind the sticks and in poor down-and-distance situations, which makes first down a key for the Bulldogs’ defense.
New Mexico on first-down runs this season has averaged 6.7 yards a play, the best mark in the conference and sixth-best in the nation.
Get that, and the Lobos are rolling. Stop that, and the Bulldogs have a good shot at getting them off the field.
New Mexico has not seen many third-and-long plays, but throwing the football on third-and-7 or more it has hit 6 of 16 passes for 60 yards and three first downs, and rushing it the Lobos have gained 45 yards on nine plays with two first downs.
Fresno State has to get them there, though.
The Lobos have run only 59 third-down plays, 11.8 per game, fewest in the MW.
3. Rack ’em up
The Bulldogs’ linebackers have been very productive the past two games – George Helmuth was first and Jeffrey Allison and James Bailey were tied for second in tackles in the victory over Nevada, and Allison and Helmuth were first and third with Bailey tied for seventh in the win at San Jose State.
They are players to watch against the Lobos’ option attack.
In New Mexico’s two losses the leading tacklers for the team on the other sideline were linebackers and not, say, defensive backs too many yards down the field.
When New Mexico State won at New Mexico, all three linebackers had 10 or more tackles and combined for 34 with 16 solo stops, one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Lobos in that game had a season-low 176 rushing yards and 430 yards of total offense, their second-fewest this season.
4. Cash it in
With 11 turnovers gained in five games the Bulldogs already have two more than they had a year ago when tied for last in the Mountain West and the nation with nine. But to make those turnovers really hurt they have to be able to score at the other end and they have had difficulty turning those turnovers into touchdowns.
Fresno State last season was ranked last in the conference in total and scoring offense, but that team hit the end zone at a higher rate than it has so far this season.
The Bulldogs a year ago had nine turnovers gained, and turned them into touchdowns five times.
This season, it’s 11 and four.
That inefficiency, along with their productivity on third down and in the red zone, can become a problem as Fresno State moves to a tough stretch in the schedule.
New Mexico has turned it over 11 times, tied for ninth in the conference.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEW MEXICO AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 3-2, 2-0 Mountain West; Lobos 3-2, 1-1
- Webcast/radio: AT&T , ROOT (AT&T UVerse 757, 1757; DirecTV, 684)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: New Mexico had a bye week following a 56-38 victory over Air Force, its second win in a row. The Lobos went into the weekend averaging 266.8 rushing yards per game, third in the Mountain West. Running back Richard McQuarley tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in the victory over Air Force and is leading the Lobos’ attack, averaging 5.9 yards per play and 60.2 yards per game.