Fresno State did a lot right in its 24-13 victory over San Diego State — its defense had season lows in five games against bowl subdivision opponents in rushing yards and rushing yards per play and didn't allow a rushing touchdown for the first time; it allowed the Aztecs to complete only 37.5% of their passes (9 of 24), averaging only 3.5 yards per attempt, and intercepted two passes.
And while unconcerned by perception coming out of blowout losses in the first three games of the season at USC, at Utah and to Nebraska, it is in some ways driving expectations now that the Bulldogs are into Mountain West Conference play. They were not met.
"I think the guys are happy that we won. They're happy they went out and were physical. I'm happy with that. They're happy they had a fanatical effort. They were in the backfield. They forced takeaways. They made it hard on the young kid (freshman quarterback Nick Bawden) like they should. But I think they know they left some stuff out there," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said.
"We just know that we can be better than that. That's not coach-speak. That's what we expect. That's what Fresno State should expect."
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Fresno State on Friday plays at UNLV, a team that has struggled this season. The Rebels are ranked 11th of 12 in the Mountain West in scoring offense with 16.8 points per game and 10th in total offense with 365.7 yards per game. The following week, the Bulldogs get Boise State on the road.
"It's not going to get easier," Toth said. "We can't waste plays. We only have six games left. You can't keep saying we're going to do it, we have to do it and keep doing it. That's where my frustration is and that's where the players' frustration is — that could have been like a 160- or a 175-yard game and people would be saying, 'Wow how about that?'
"We didn't play great. We played better, but we didn't play great. It could have been that and the players knew it. They saw it in the meeting (Sunday). They talked about it."
Secondary still in flux
Jamal Ellis had a solid game at cornerback, and Shannon Edwards played well when he was in at free safety. But the Bulldogs still are planning to keep their options open from week to week with their secondary and Charles Washington, who has started games at strong safety and cornerback.
"As long as we can be improving at the corner position, we can keep him inside as either a safety or a nickel and I think that's our best alternative," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "But if we don't feel good about the corner position, then he's going to move out there."
- The Bulldogs converted 50% (9 of 18) of their third downs into first downs against the Aztecs, a season high and the best percentage they have had in 10 games.
- Fresno State forced the Aztecs into a three-and-out on their opening possession of the game, the first time in five games against FBS opponents that has happened this season. USC, Utah and Nebraska all scored on their opening drives, and New Mexico made one first down.
Off to Sin City
FRESNO STATE AT UNLV
Vitals: 7 p.m. Friday at Sam Boyd Stadium
Records: Bulldogs 3-3 (2-0 MW); Rebels 1-5 (0-2 MW)
Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)