Fresno State won its first four Mountain West games with some degree of ease, outscoring its opponents 133-38.
It was first or second in the conference in a bunch of key statistical categories – scoring and total defense, opponent first downs and opponent third-down conversions, tackles for loss allowed, turnover margin, sacks allowed.
But it took just 15 minutes of football to change the narrative, the fourth quarter of a loss to a UNLV team that was struggling and a 22-point underdog.
“It resets you a little bit,” linebacker George Helmuth said.
Now the Bulldogs face a final four regular-season games that suddenly look far more daunting, starting on Saturday with a non-conference tester against Brigham Young followed by road games at Hawaii and at Wyoming and a finale against Boise State.
Where are the Bulldogs as they hit the final third of their football season?
It’s a question they will begin to answer against the Cougars, who are 2-7 but have lost to three ranked teams in No. 19 LSU, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 21 Mississippi State.
“Nobody likes losing,” Fresno State tight end Kyle Riddering said. “We’re not coming out here to lose, but at the same time there are a lot of things that we can learn from that last game. Watching that film there were a lot of things that we can take away that are very instructive. It’s going to help us grow even more.
“If anything, it helps us realize how important those details are. Coming in the next day and watching the film, really getting to see what we did, that just helped us realize how important those details are and how we need to be locked in on what we’re doing in all the small things in all phases of the game.”
That attention to detail escaped the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter of that loss to UNLV – the score was tied going into the fourth quarter before the Rebels took advantage of two Fresno State turnovers to put the final 10 points on the board in a 26-16 victory.
The Bulldogs (5-3, 4-1 in the MW) don’t have an easy mark in BYU, which has been much more competitive against the Group of Five teams on its schedule.
The loss to UNLV did not change the dynamic for a program that under coach Jeff Tedford is extracting itself from three consecutive losing seasons.
“It’s 100 percent dialed in on what this week’s opportunity is all about and how we practice, with a purpose and staying focused with what we need to do,” Tedford said.
“You focus on BYU and what they bring to the table. They’ve played a really tough schedule. They’re a very physical, good football team.”
Rushing the football, the Cougars have averaged 4.6 yards per play overall compared to 2.1 against Power Five teams. Throwing the football, they have averaged 7.0 yards per play and 252.3 yards per game compared to 4.7 and 132.5.
There are similar differences on the defensive side of the football.
That made Fresno State’s focus, the attention to detail a bit easier to find on the practice field, and to flush the loss to the Rebels.
“Early in the season when we had success it’s because we were locked into those details,” Riddering said. “We were focused on that and our coaches have been doing a great job of keeping us accountable to those details.
“It’s just one of those things that you have to realize how big those little things are in the grand scheme of things.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BRIGHAM YOUNG AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7:45 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 5-3, Cougars 2-7
- TV/radio: ESPN2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: BYU snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 41-20 victory on Saturday over a San Jose State team that is now 1-8 and has lost its road games by an average of 30.8 points. … The Cougars have struggled on offense all season and went into that game against the Spartans averaging just 12.1 points per game, 128th in the nation. The 41 points were a season-high and more than they had in their past three games combined – they scored 7, 10 and 17 points in losses to Boise State, Mississippi State and East Carolina. … BYU has struggled in particular trying to rush the football. It averaged more than 200 yards a game on the ground last season, but even after churning out 266 yards against the Spartans is averaging only 109.2 yards per game, 120th in the nation. That was nothing out of the ordinary for Spartans’ opponents. San Jose State had allowed 278.3 rushing yards per game, ranking 128th in the nation. It also had allowed 26 rushing touchdowns, ranking 129th.
BYU in 2017
BYU plays an independent schedule in football:
Aug. 26 d. Portland State 20-6
Sept. 2 lost (in Houston) to LSU 27-0
Sept. 9 lost to Utah 19-13
Sept. 16 lost to Wisconsin 40-6
Sept. 29 lost at Utah State 40-24
Oct. 6 lost to Boise State 24-7
Oct. 14 lost at Mississippi State 35-10
Oct. 21 lost at East Carolina 33-17
Oct. 28 d. San Jose State 41-20
Nov. 4 at Fresno State
Nov. 10 at UNLV
Nov. 18 vs. UMass
Nov. 25 at Hawaii
Mountain West race
Before the UNLV loss, Fresno State was cruising along with a two-game lead over San Diego State in the West Division of the Mountain West plus a head-to-head tiebreaker, a combination that made the Bulldogs a large favorite to land in the Mountain West championship game.
Now the Aztecs are just one game behind with games left against teams that are a combined 5-20 this season, 2-11 in conference play.
Here’s how the frontrunners stack up in November:
Fresno State opponent
San Diego State opponent
at San Jose State (1-8, 0-4)
at Hawaii (3-5, 1-4)
at Wyoming (5-3, 3-1)
Nevada (1-7, 1-3)
Boise State (6-2, 4-0)
New Mexico (3-5, 1-4)