FRESNO STATE AT NEW MEXICO
5 p.m. at University Stadium in Albuquerque
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Bulldogs 1-3, Lobos 1-2
ESPN2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
75 degrees, clear, light winds
Bulldogs lead 10-4, including 4-3 in Albuquerque
KEYS TO SUCCESS
• For Fresno State: Force three-and-outs. The Bulldogs have scored a touchdown on six of their past eight offensive series but, given a proclivity for mistakes and poor execution, is it reasonable even against a New Mexico defense that has struggled all season to expect that to continue back into FBS play? The defense will have to get the Lobos off the field, especially early, to have a chance.
•For New Mexico:
Hit some big throws off play action. The Bulldogs have done a great job against the Lobos' triple-option in the past six quarters they have played — New Mexico rushed for just 81 yards in the second half in 2012 and 168 yards total in 2013. The Lobos will get man-to-man outside, so they need to take some shots against the Bulldogs corners and do it on running downs and distances.
• Spin that QB mix: The past two seasons when playing New Mexico, Fresno State has seen five quarterbacks, three in 2012 and two last season, and it could be similar Friday in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.
Cole Gautsche is expected to start and could get deep into the game, but he played only one half last week in a win over New Mexico State because of a hamstring injury. Clayton Mitchem and Lamar Jordan took the other snaps.
This season, Gautsche is leading the Lobos with 237 rushing yards at 11.9 per play and has completed 5 of 11 passes for 49 yards, Mitchem has rushed for 31 yards at 2.4 per play and completed 4 of 8 passes for 51 yards. Jordan has gained 66 yards on the ground at 3.1 per play and hit 10 of 14 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Gautsche has led six touchdown drives; Jordan has led five.
It didn't matter much who or how many played in the Lobos' triple-option offense in either of the past two matchups — the Bulldogs won 49-32 and 69-28. But they have prepared for all three in practice this week — all different physically, but the skill sets similar enough.
"The preparation really doesn't change," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We'll see coming into the game, if Gautsche is out especially, are they doing what we've planned against, which is their whole thing (triple-option) or are they changing and then in the game we'll have to adjust from there.
"But we have to plan for everything, anticipate that they're going to run their base offense … last week was a big game for them, it is a big in-state rivalry, and they were doing fakes, they're doing trick plays. We're looking at that game tape and saying, 'Hey, this is probably who they want to be for this year.' "
• Feelin' 50: The Bulldogs put up 56 points last out in a victory over Southern Utah, the eighth time in 30 games they have topped the 50-point mark under DeRuyter. They have scored 50 or more in back-to-back games only once.
• Better by thirds: Fresno State has had trouble executing its offense and converting third downs — the Bulldogs are 19 of 66 (28.8%), ranking 11th in the Mountain West ahead of only Utah State.
But, if they can stay out of their own way, the sledding should be easier against the Lobos. New Mexico has allowed opponents to convert 28 of 49 of their third downs (57.1%). .
"We can't get off the field because we don't execute," coach Bob Davie said. "We're always just one play behind and it's so frustrating. It's so frustrating. We're the toughest team on our schedule. It's ourselves right now."
• Stuffed: How good was Fresno State against the Lobos' triple-option last season? The Bulldogs had 13 tackles for loss, as many or more than they had in their 2013 and 2012 games against San Diego State (six and seven, 13), Nevada (four and eight, 12) and Boise State (eight and three, 11).
• Return engagement: Fresno State has improved its kickoff coverage significantly over last season, when it ranked 102nd in the nation at 23.6 yards per return. But they could get a big test against the man who played a large role in inflating that 2013 number in the Lobos' Carlos Wiggins, who had one for an 89-yard touchdown, another for 64 and seven in all for 252 yards.
Wiggins, limited during the week in practice and a game-time decision because of a hamstring strain, has averaged 25.3 yards on his three kickoff returns this season. Fresno State is 13th in the FBS, allowing 16.5 per return.
• For the cause: Coaches from both teams will be wearing an arm patch for Coach to Cure MD, raising awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common fatal childhood genetic disorder. The program has raised more than $1 million since 2008.
• Wichmann adds on: Fresno State right guard Cody Wichmann will make his 41st career start and 33rd in a row.
There is no official school record, but he is the fourth Bulldog with 40 or more starts over the past eight seasons following linebacker Ben Jacobs (52 from 2007-10), offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (49, 2004-07) and offensive lineman Austin Wentworth (43, 2010-13).
• Conference command: Fresno State has won its past two Mountain West openers, beating Boise State 41-40 last season and San Diego State 52-40 in 2012, with both at Bulldog Stadium.
New Mexico has not won a conference opener since 2005 when it beat UNLV 24-22 and all-time is just 3-12.
THIS DATE IN BULLDOGS HISTORY
Sept. 26, 1992 vs. Washington State
Occasionally a football game lives up to its hype, played out just as pundits or coaches expected, and such was the case 22 years ago when Jim Sweeney's Fresno State Bulldogs took on Mike Price's Washington State Cougars.
In addition to the duel of big-name coaches, it was a matchup of future NFL quarterbacks as the Bulldogs' Trent Dilfer and Cougars' Drew Bledsoe each were building résumés that would land them in the first round of the 1994 and 1993 drafts.
It was Price who would nail how the game played out, fearing a points-filled "tennis match." The teams delivered, and then some, in front of 38,077 fans — at that point the second-largest crowd in Bulldog Stadium history.
Price had said that he did not expect his team to be able to win a shootout. And trailing is exactly where the Cougars found themselves late, as Malcolm Seabron took a short pass from Dilfer for 54 yards with 2:28 to go. Derek Mahoney's PAT made it 37-33.
But that's when Bledsoe sprung to life, completing a stellar fourth quarter after an up-and-down day. Through three periods, he was just 13 of 30 but in the final 15 minutes twice rallied his team to a lead.
Bledsoe first directed a five-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard TD pass to C.J. Davis. The PAT failed and the Cougars led 33-30.
Dilfer also wasn't particularly good throwing the ball until the fourth quarter, yet when he and Sebron hooked up it appeared Fresno State had done enough to knock off the Pac-10 team.
Washington State started its final possession on its 17, but Bledsoe needed only 1:48 to get back into the end zone. He found Davis again, for a 10-yard lob with 40 seconds to play that accounted for a 39-37 final.
Bledsoe finished 21 of 43 for 323 yards. Davis had eight catches for 125 yards. Dilfer was 15 of 31 for 246 yards and also scrambled for a score.
Fresno State would still finish 9-4, capped by a landmark win over USC at the Freedom Bowl, and No. 24 in the final poll.
Washington State wound up 9-3 and ranked No. 15.
Learn more while listening to Paul Loeffler on "Gameday Live" on KFIG (AM 940) starting at 2 p.m. Friday.