Fresno State's defense appears to have regained its "swagger" and "mojo" during this three-game win streak.
At least that's what the players and coaches have been saying.
The Bulldogs' offense, meanwhile, still could use more affirmation that it's on the right path and capable of again being a high-powered unit — as it was the past two seasons.
Nothing like a trip to Vegas to get one thinking big and looking for the jackpot. A matchup against one of the worst defenses in the country should help, too.
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Fresno State (3-3, 2-0 Mountain West) takes on struggling UNLV (1-5, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Rebels, whose win is a one-point victory against FCS team Northern Colorado, have been woeful on both sides of the ball -- especially defense.
"Our offense, very much like a lot of offenses, we play well when we start stacking plays, getting into a rhythm, getting people on their heels, and can use tempo," Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. "When we don't get going, it's hard to get it kick-started.
"I don't expect we're going to do down the field on everybody and score, but we've got to do better."
UNLV ranks No. 122 — fourth-to-last nationally — giving up an average of 545.3 total yards per game and is No. 115 in allowing 38.7 points per game.
Fresno State averaged 45.5 points and 643.5 yards in victories against FCS program Southern Utah and New Mexico. Last week the Bulldogs generated 24 points and a season-low 315 total yards in a 24-13 victory against San Diego State.
Bulldogs starting quarterback Brian Burrell could use a bounce-back performance after completing 14 of 28 passes for 143 yards without a touchdown and two turnovers (one interception, one lost fumble).
The Rebels are giving up an average of 252.8 passing yards per game, ranking 84th in the country.
It's the Bulldogs' ground game, though, that could be in line for a big night. The Rebels rank second to last in the nation with an average of 292.5 rushing yards allowed per game, along with 17 rushing touchdowns, fourth most in the country.
"We got to find a way to run the football, take care of the football and find our one-on-one matchups in passing situations and take advantage of those as well," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. "(The offense) is coming together.
"(Burrell) has done a nice job. He did a nice job with the protections. He's got to be more consistent, but we were 50% on third downs last week. He's progressing like a lot of first-time D-I quarterbacks. We've got to do a better job of protecting the football. We'll fix that."
Fresno State's defense will be going up against a mistake-prone UNLV offense that has committed 13 turnovers (12 interceptions, one fumble).
The Rebels are expected to have starting quarterback Blake Decker available, despite him suffering an injury to his throwing arm last week. It forced him to miss the second half of a 33-10 loss at San Jose State. Decker, initially considered doubtful, practiced this week and is likely to start, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The Rebels likely again could be without top receiver Devante Davis, the preseason All-Mountain West selection who has missed the past two games with a wrist injury.
Fresno State has come up with five turnovers in its three-game winning streak compared to three turnovers during a three-game skid to start the season.
"Those first three weeks, it was hard for us," Bulldogs safety Charles Washington said. "Just with the points we had given up (and) the points we had scored. We were just kind of trying to find ourselves.
"So I think we've got our swagger back now. We're playing fast, playing a lot better than we were those first three games."
That confidence, defensive coordinator Nick Toth said, could help Fresno State put together its first all-around strong performance of the season.
"The last three weeks, you've seen more continuity, whether it's been a blocked punt, a big kick return, a big play on offense, a takeaway or a fourth-down stop," Toth said. "There's been stuff happening to create mojo for other phases, other units on the team.
"That's been our deal here the whole time, whether it was beating Rutgers or Boise on the last play of the game because the defense made a stop (last year). Or the offense making a touchdown on the first play of the game. There's been things to create energy, to create mojo these last three games for everybody. And that's what we need to keep doing, feeding off each other's big plays."