Fresno State (2-5, 1-3 Mountain West) at Air Force (3-3, 2-1)
▪ Saturday: 11 a.m. at Falcon Stadium (46,692)
▪ Webcast: ESPN3 (internet only)
▪ Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
▪ Kickoff forecast: 53 degrees, sunny
Fresno State’s three keys to victory
1 Disciplined ‘D.’ Air Force has turned over the ball 12 times this season and is a minus-3 in turnover margin, but the Bulldogs can’t count on the Falcons making a ton of mistakes. Fresno State has to read its keys, keep its eyes in the right spots at all times and play a disciplined game against the Falcons’ option-based offense. Bust some plays and the Bulldogs could be in trouble quickly.
2 Get off the field. Fresno State is one of the worst teams in the nation getting off the field on third down, allowing opponents to move the sticks on 52.7 percent of their third-down plays. If the Bulldogs can’t do significantly better than that against the Falcons and get stuck on the field through long drives – while lacking depth and playing at high altitude – they are going to get chewed up by that run game.
3 Take another step. Hey, the Bulldogs won a game and redshirt freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson took some forward steps . But you know what? Anderson still has a passing efficiency rating of 99.85. If he had the games and passes to qualify, that wouldn’t even rank in the top 100 in the nation. The Falcons will bring a lot of pressures and Anderson has to stand up to them and make plays.
– Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee
Fresno State player spotlight: Middle linebacker Kyrie Wilson
Hometown/high school: Bakersfield/Ridgeview
Last week: Finished with seven tackles in helping the Bulldogs to a 31-28 victory over UNLV. … For the season, Wilson is third on the team in tackles with 39 despite missing one game with an elbow injury.
Why this game is important for Wilson: Air Force always looks to run. The Falcons have surpassed 200 rushing yards with at least one rushing touchdown in every game this season. Air Force leads the Mountain West Conference in rushing, averaging 312.2 yards. Wilson and the other linebackers have to be ready for the triple option, I-(formation) and run spread, no-huddle, up-tempo offense.
He said it: “We have to be disciplined and have our eyes where they need to be and everybody do their responsibility and try not to do too much. If we do that, then we’ll do pretty good. The scout team is doing a good job showing us what it’s going to be like in the game. We’ll be ready to play, and just be ready where we need to be.”
– Anthony Galaviz, The Fresno Bee
Tailgating: Bulldogs pregame news and notes
Fresno State nose guard Nate Madsen, who suffered a lower leg injury in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ victory over UNLV, was limited in practice this week.
The third-year sophomore is on the travel roster, but his availability will be a game-time decision.
If Madsen is unable to go, Fresno State likely will slide senior defensive end Todd Hunt inside to nose guard and start redshirt freshman Kyle Hendrickson or junior Nick Kristofors at the end opposite senior Claudell Louis. Hunt has started 21 consecutive games as an end, but has played nose in nickel packages and got some reps there after Madsen went down.
The backup at nose would be redshirt freshman Tyler Puccio, who was first off the bench when Madsen got hurt and was credited with two tackles.
Winning outside – Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm expect redshirt freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson to take another step forward in his third start, but he could use some help from his outside receivers in this game.
The Bulldogs also expect to see a lot of man coverage.
“We’re going to have to win outside,” DeRuyter said. “They make it very difficult to methodically go down the field. I think they’re particularly good against the run, but matchup-wise, we’ve got to win because they’re going to put us in man coverage. We have to win the one-on-ones, at least our fair share of them so we can make some explosive plays.”
Air Force is second in the Mountain West Conference in passing defense, allowing 189 yards per game. But the Falcons are only ninth in pass-efficiency defense and yards per pass attempt; opponents have a rating of 138.37 and are averaging 7.6 yards per throw.
In a loss at Colorado State last week, the Falcons saw the Rams complete 76.7 percent (23 of 30) of their passes for 296 yards with three touchdowns. Air Force allowed five explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards and this season has given up 19 to tie for seventh in the conference.
The production from the Bulldogs’ outside receivers group has been inconsistent. Josiah Blandin, who caught a touchdown pass in the first three games, has just three receptions over the past three games. KeeSean Johnson, who had 12 catches over the first two conference games, has three receptions over the past two. Delvon Hardaway has caught three passes in four games since coming back from a spring knee injury. Da’Mari Scott has four receptions over the past four games, catching two passes in each of the past two games.
Big underdogs – Fresno State is as high as a 17.5-point underdog.
The Bulldogs have not been a bigger underdog in a regular-season conference game since 2011 at home against Boise State when the Broncos were favored by 21. They also were a 17.5-point underdog last season at Boise State.
On Anderson – The Bulldogs allowed no sacks last week in the victory over UNLV, Anderson handling his protections well. But he could have to deal with a lot more pressure from the Falcons, who are second in the Mountain West with 3.17 sacks per game.
“He did some really good things and he’s learning,” Schramm said. “But like I told him after the Utah State game and like I told him after the UNLV game, your job is to learn and to grow.
“They’re going to blitz the heck out of him again this week,” Schramm said. “That’s what they do. They’re very physical. They do a lot of coverage disguise. He has to get better this week for us to be successful.”
Waller watch – Marteze Waller, who moved into the top 5 five on the Bulldogs’ career rushing list when he gained 111 yards in the victory over against UNLV, is 249 yards from moving up to fourth.
Michael Pittman, who rushed for 3,017 yards on 647 plays between 1993-97, is just ahead of Waller. The senior running back has rushed for 2,768 yards on 533 plays.
Et cetera – Air Force has played three home games this season and has yet to trail. The Falcons have been tied for a total of 39 minutes. Fresno State has yet to lead away from Bulldog Stadium.
▪ The Falcons lead the conference in rushing, but are tied for fourth with Nevada and Utah State in rushing plays of 20 or more yards with 13. New Mexico (20), UNLV (15) and Wyoming (14) have more explosive rushing plays.
▪ Fresno State is 14-5 in the second half of its seasons in the three-plus years under DeRuyter. The Bulldogs, 1-0 this season after beating UNLV, were 3-3 last season and 5-1 in 2013 and 2012.
▪ On the Falcons’ two-deep for this game, there is one underclassmen listed as a starter –sophomore inside linebacker Grant Ross. On offense, Air Force lists six seniors and five juniors as starters. On defense, it has two seniors, eight juniors and the sophomore Ross as starters. Fresno State on its two-deep has a total of eight sophomores and freshmen listed as starters, six on offense and two on defense.
▪ Air Force wideout Garrett Brown has caught at least one pass in 24 consecutive games, the third longest streak in the Mountain West behind Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins (32) and San Jose State’s Tyler Winston (28). The Bulldogs have one receiver with a reception in all seven games this season – redshirt freshman Jamire Jordan, who leads the team with 26 for 295 yards and four touchdowns.
▪ The Bulldogs allowed 299 yards against UNLV. They have not held back-to-back opponents to fewer than 300 yards since 2013, when they allowed 273 in a 61-14 victory at Idaho followed by 294 in a 38-14 victory over UNLV.
– Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee