FRESNO STATE AT NEVADA
7:30 p.m. at Mackay Stadium
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Bulldogs 3-3, 4-6 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 6-4, 3-3 (radio, TV info inTailgating
ESPNU (Comcast 420; DirecTV 208; Dish 141; AT&T U-Verse 605)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
43 degrees, 10-12 mph wind
Fresno State leads 26-18-1
KEYS TO SUCCESS
For Fresno State: Frustrate Cody Fajardo. The Bulldogs have limited what the Wolf Pack QB has done as a passer the past two seasons. Do that again, and get off the field on third downs, and their chances improve. He can be erratic, hitting less than 58% of his passes in 5 of 10 games with a low of 41.7% against San Diego State and has tied a season-high with nine interceptions.
For Nevada: Make Brian Burrell prove it. Fresno State’s quarterback took a solid step forward against San Jose State, getting the ball out of his hand on time, throwing to the right spots and taking advantage of opportunities. But the Wolf Pack has reason to be skeptical — Burrell still has hit only 58.1% of his passes with an efficiency rating of 120.90, seventh in the conference — and while Nevada has not been good against the pass (last in the Mountain West), the Wolf Pack have to test Burrell as much as possible.
•Can the run succeed?
Fresno State led with the run when regaining traction with a victory over San Jose State two weeks ago, rushing the football on a higher percentage of its plays than it had all season.
But the Bulldogs could have a more difficult time with that against Nevada, which at times will play closed-middle coverages and drop an extra defender into the box. The Wolf Pack have allowed 170.8 rushing yards per game, but have had some solid games against the run in holding San Diego State to 135 yards on 29 plays (well under its average of 205.4) and Colorado State to 119 on 34 plays (the Rams average 166.1 per game and 4.9 per play).
That could put some pressure on quarterback Brian Burrell, but coming off his sharpest game of the season there is less concern than there would have been, say, six weeks ago.
“He’s got to make another step this week,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said of Burrell, who hit 20 of 26 passes against the Spartans. “This obviously is a big game and we won’t be at home, we’re going into a hostile environment and they’re going to make him throw the football to beat them if they continue to play like they’re playing, and I don’t see them doing anything different, that’s what their mindset is on defense. So, we have to be able to make some plays in the pass game. But he did a good job (against San Jose State) and I expect him to do a good job this week.”
•Keeping it brisk:
The low in Reno is expected to hit 26, which is plenty frigid. But Fresno State has fared well in cold weather games in the past two-plus seasons. The Bulldogs won at Wyoming last season when the temperature at kickoff was 40 degrees, and they won at Colorado State and Nevada in 2012 when it was 37 and 33 degrees … and falling.
Some of the Bulldogs like it that way.
“It’s better than hot for some people, including myself,” right guard Cody Wichmann said. “When you step on that Nevada field it makes a crunch noise because the turf is frozen. It can get in your mind a little bit, but we played Nevada two years ago when it was 19 degrees. I don’t think it’s going to be that cold when we go up there Saturday, so I think we’re going to be just fine.”
•Wobbling on Waller:
Fresno State will make a game-time decision whether running back Marteze Waller will be able to play after suffering a shoulder injury late in the second quarter against San Jose State. Waller has rushed for more than 100 yards in four consecutive games, running his total to 1,086.
In the first 20 1,000-yard seasons in school history, only two of those backs topped 100 yards in more than four consecutive games.
Wendell Mathis had five in a row in 2005, rushing for 1,313 yards. And Ryan Mathews had nine at the start of the 2009 season, finishing with 1,808 yards.
•Beware late threat:
An exceptionally large lead going into the fourth quarter would not hurt. Nevada is leading the Football Bowl Subdivision by a sizable margin in fourth-quarter scoring margin, putting up 135 points while allowing 55, a plus-80. Georgia Tech is second at plus-65. Of the 307 points the Wolf Pack have scored this season, 44% have come in the fourth quarter and 65% (199 of 307) in the second half.
•Bowling, party of one:
Nevada at 6-4 is the only team in the Western Division of the Mountain West Conference that is bowl-eligible at this point. San Diego State and the Bulldogs still have a shot at 5-5 and 4-6.
•Big boys to battle:
Two good matchups to watch are up front, where Fresno State tackles Alex Fifita and Justin Northern will work against Nevada defensive ends Brock Hekking and Ian Seau.
Seau is tied for second in the conference with 6.5 sacks and Hekking (four) is tied for eighth.
“Those kids present matchup problems to everyone they play,” offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said. “I like our tackles and I think we’ll do a pretty good job on them, but we have to go out and play and have a plan just in case they’re causing extra havoc.”
“They are very active, but if we establish the run game and do a good job with them early I think we’ll be all right. But especially up there, you let them get going, they’ll get after you.”
Senior wideout Josh Harper became the fourth receiver in Fresno State history with 200 or more career receptions, reeling in the milestone catch on a 19-yard touchdown from Burrell in the third quarter against San Jose State.
Harper trails former teammate Isaiah Burse (209) for third all-time.
•Which one will it be?
In its six victories, Nevada has allowed an average of 18.2 points. In its four losses, it has given up 40.5.
THIS DATE IN HISTORY
Nov. 22, 1924, vs. College of the Pacific
Forty-four points? That seems like nothing these days in college football, with teams routinely combining for that many and much more in a game.
But a defense allowing just 44 for an entire nine-game season?
Meet the 1924 Fresno State Bulldogs under the direction of Arthur W. Jones, who capped a stellar three-year run of success in his eight-year stay as the team’s first coach with a defensive season to remember.
It remains the program’s all-time low in points surrendered, and on this date the fourth of five shutouts that year was pitched against the College of the Pacific.
Fresno State had problems of its own when it came to offense, scoring 12 or fewer points five times — including two shutouts. And into halftime in Stockton, both defenses remained dominant with a pair of scoreless quarters.
The Bulldogs finally broke through in the third quarter when halfback Elward Mitchell ran in for a touchdown. Preston Williston, the fullback, put the game on ice with a fourth-quarter score and the defense held the rest of the way for a 12-0 victory. Pacific’s best shot had come in the first quarter, but it failed to capitalize on a short field from the 20, stalling out inside the 10.
Williston was a World War I veteran who played first at Stanford before transferring to Fresno State. With the Bulldogs, he also was a baseball catcher and after his playing days went on to coach freshman teams at Fresno State and in 1927 assumed the newly created title of graduate manager of athletic activities.
Jones was 3-4 in the first year of Fresno State football in 1921 but then went 7-1-2 in year 2 ahead of back-to-back 7-2 seasons in 1923-24. He finished 36-26-7 and started the team toward what is a now a 1,000-game history, with the Bulldogs topping that milestone earlier this season in an Oct. 3 home victory over San Diego State.
Learn more about the game while listening to Paul Loeffler on “Gameday Live” beginning at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on KFIG (AM 940).
— The Fresno Bee