The past two seasons there was a much better chance that a Mountain West Conference football player of the week had played against Fresno State than played for it.
But linebacker George Helmuth on Monday became the Bulldogs’ fourth honoree over the past seven weeks, earning defensive player of the week honors after racking up a career-high 11 tackles in a 13-7 victory at Wyoming that clinched a West Division championship and a berth in the conference championship game.
“I’m happy for George,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He’s a quiet guy. You never hear anything of him. He just does his job and plays really hard.”
One of those tackles came on a fourth-down run by quarterback Nick Smith in the second quarter, forcing a turnover on downs in a game the Bulldogs’ defense set down the Wyoming offense on a three-and-out eight times in 14 series.
Helmuth, a Clovis North High grad who entered the starting lineup for a Sept. 16 game at Washington, also recovered a fumbled punt at the Wyoming 21-yard line that led to the Bulldogs’ only touchdown in the game, a pass from Marcus McMaryion to running back Robbie Rivers that gave the Bulldogs a 10-0 lead.
Monday is an off day for players, so Helmuth was unavailable for an interview.
The junior linebacker is the third Fresno State defender to be honored by the conference following safety Juju Hughes (Oct. 23 after the win at San Diego State) and linebacker Jeffrey Allison (Nov. 6 following the win over Brigham Young). Hughes also earned the award Oct. 9, after the Bulldogs won at San Jose State.
Before Hughes, Fresno State had not had a player earn a player of the week honor from the conference since linebacker Kyrie Wilson on Nov. 10, 2014.
Since Helmuth has been in the starting lineup he has averaged 7.2 tackles per game and the Bulldogs’ trio of linebackers have developed into one of the best in the conference.
“To find that combination of George and Jeff (Allison) and (James) Bailey in there, those are three really good players,” Tedford said. “They play very hard.”
Fresno State, which closes the regular-season on Saturday against Boise State at Bulldog Stadium, is first in the Mountain West in total defense allowing just 307.5 yards per game and that includes games on the road at No. 1 Alabama and at No. 6 Washington.
The Bulldogs also are allowing only 17.3 points per game and rank first in the conference in scoring defense, are leading in third-down defense (32.5 percent) and have allowed the fewest explosive plays of 20 or more yards (29).
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BOISE STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 8-3, 6-1 Mountain West; Broncos 9-2, 7-0
- TV/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Broncos have won seven in a row after beating Air Force on Saturday 44-19. Over the past four games, they are averaging 46.3 points per game. Brett Rypien has thrown for 12 TDs and just one interception in that stretch. … Boise State has 14 seniors and that group is the 15th in 16 years to win 40 or more career games. With a victory, the Broncos also would go undefeated in conference play for the first time since 2009 when it was in the WAC. … The Broncos last week were No. 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings, part of the reason they have a large lead on the Bulldogs in determining the host for the Dec. 2 conference final. Even a head-to-head win might not be enough to get Fresno State a home game – the host is determined by teams’ standing in the CFP or composite of four computer rankings.