Fresno State has been solid enough against the run over the past two-plus seasons, ranking fourth in the Mountain West Conference in 2013 and third in '12, allowing 147.3 and 171.3 yards per game -- and in there, the Bulldogs have put together some strong games against some big backs.
Last season they held Utah State running back Joey DeMartino to 54 yards on 18 plays, 33 yards less than his per game average, and Wyoming back Shaun Wick to 47 yards on 16 plays, 34 yards less than he gained per game. UNLV running back Tim Cornett gained only 49 yards. San Diego State running back Adam Muema gained 111 yards, but it took 27 carries, the most he had in a Mountain West Conference game.
DeMartino, Cornett and Muema all were 1,000-yard rushers, Wick gained 979.
Boise State running back Jay Ajayi is in there, too.
The third leading rusher in the conference last season with 1,425 yards and 109.6 yards per game, Ajayi gained only 54 yards on 20 plays in a 41-40 Fresno State victory, 2.7 per.
Coming off a disappointing overtime loss at UNLV the Bulldogs get another shot on Friday at Boise State, as does Ajayi, who this season is second in the conference averaging 118.2 rushing yards per game.
"I don't know about bounce back, we just have to play better and we have to play better against probably the best back in the league," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said.
"We just have to respond. We have to respond and play better. We have to be more consistent and we have to down the ball better. They have better skill than we've faced, they have a really good offensive line. It's going to be a physical sucker and we have to make sure that were trying to stop that run and that great running back that they're not throwing the ball over our heads."
The challenge for the Bulldogs this week is different than two weeks ago when they limited San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey to 94 rushing yards on 24 plays, a season low 3.9 per play. The Aztecs, starting a true freshman at quarterback, didn't have much of any pass game.
But they are looking forward to another physical challenge against another top back - Pumphrey is leading the Mountain West in rushing with 134.5 yards per game. And the physical nature of the Boise State offensive line and Ajayi has a way of clarifying the mission.
"The running back at Boise, that guy is a baller, man," outside linebacker Donavon Lewis said. "He runs the ball hard. He's a hard runner. As long as I've been here he's been playing there. He's a redshirt junior, so we're in the same class, but as long as he's been there he's been a good running back.
"Any time were going against a good running back, when you hit him you have to really hit him. It kind of gets us in a more aggressive attitude toward it. It makes us want to hit him, because that's the only way to get him down. If you don't hit him hard enough, he's not going to go down."
Getting him down could be a key for the Bulldogs. Boise State is 1-3 in the past four games Ajayi didn't rush for 100 or more yards and 4-5 over the past two seasons -- and two of those victories came in blowout victories over Southern Mississippi (60-7) and Wyoming (48-7), when he didn't play much in the second half. Ajayi played one series in the third quarter against Southern Miss, two against Wyoming.
That of course does not make the task any easier.
"I think he's one of the best backs in the league," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "He and (San Diego State's Donnel) Pumphrey are two different style running backs, but probably the two best running backs in this league.
"He's a more physical running back, but he's elusive as well. He's an excellent back for what they're trying to do -- they're a downhill running team that run a lot of power and inside-outside zone with him. They'll use him in the wildcat. They're trying to get him touches as many ways as they can and he's a bruising runner and so you have to get multiple guys at the point of attack. One on one he makes a bunch of guys miss, especially if he's out in space. He's going to physically run through tackles. So you have to bring people to the point of attack and play with tremendous intensity."