When coach Tim DeRuyter was hired at Fresno State and defensive coordinator Nick Toth installed a 3-4, the Bulldogs put together one of the biggest turnover turnarounds over the past 10 years. They had 35 takeaways in 2012, after gaining just nine the previous season.
But those 22 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries were not a predictor of future success. The Bulldogs have had fewer takeaways every year since, going from 35 to 23 to 20, and with only a Mountain West Conference game against Colorado State (6-5, 4-3) left for the Bulldogs (3-8, 2-5) this season, they have 19.
Fresno State has scored only six touchdowns and 51 points off its turnovers gained (its opponents have scored 110 points off 23 turnovers), which adds to the frustration. But a young and injury-depleted defense has been the biggest problem in the second half of the season.
“We have to make sure we’re being aggressive, that we’re trying to get after the quarterback when we can,” Toth said. “The trick with this group right now with some younger guys, you just have to be careful because you can blitz yourself into a situation where those guys haven’t gotten as many reps with that. There’s a tradeoff. You want to pressure or try to set edges or dictate tempo to the offense, but you have to be real careful with the guys that are on the field. You want to try to force those takeaways, but you also don’t want to give up big plays.”
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Finding that balance has been difficult this season. The Bulldogs have had 11 players on defense miss at least one game to injury, including starting inside (Mike) linebacker Kyrie Wilson, inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli, strong safety Charles Washington, free safety Shannon Edwards and outside linebackers Brandon Hughes and Tobenna Okeke.
“We had a situation against Nevada where we were scratching and clawing (the Bulldogs were down 17-16 at halftime in that game) and I had a weird mix in there and I tried to get after them,” Toth said. “But the mix on the field was really inexperienced and we ran a call that they didn’t have a lot of reps in and it cracked for 50 yards. You have to be careful.
“You want to create those takeaways that we tried to against Nevada and we did at Hawaii, but you have to keep your eye on everything.”
Next game: vs. Colorado State, 6 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Senior running back Marteze Waller is just four yards away from becoming the fifth back in school history with 3,000 career rushing yards. ... Senior outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine has 44.5 tackles for loss in his career and needs 2.5 in the finale against Colorado State to tie former San Diego State linebacker Miles Burris for most all-time in the Mountain West.
Hawaii (2-10, 0-8) – The Rainbow Warriors lost their ninth consecutive game – to finish zip-for-eight in the Mountain West – and then things turned ugly. Defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii questioned the effort of some teammates – and coaches.
During one point in the first half, during which San Jose State converted all seven third-down attempts, defensive coordinator Tom Mason pleaded whether anyone had a solution.
“I said through the headsets, ‘Somebody give a third-down call. Hell, I’ve run out of them,’ ” Mason recalled.
By then, interim coach Chris Naeole had thrown down his headset.
“I’m tired of hearing people in my ear,” Naeole said later.
Next game: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, 8 p.m. Saturday
Notable: The announced turnstile count of 11,625 for the San Jose State game was the smallest for a home game in the Warriors’ 40-year residency at Aloha Stadium.
Nevada (6-5, 4-3) – The Wolf Pack simply can’t close games, and that theme is five years in the making.
Since 2011, Nevada is 10-19 in games decided by a touchdown or less, with the latest close loss coming Saturday when the Wolf Pack frittered away a 20-point second-half lead in a 31-27 loss at Utah State.
“We have to learn how to finish,” Wolf Pack defensive end Lenny Jones said.
The can’t-close theme isn’t anything new.
In 2011, the Wolf Pack lost a 20-3 fourth-quarter lead against Louisiana Tech in the Western Athletic Conference title game. In 2012, the Wolf Pack lost three double-digit leads in the final four minutes. In 2014, Nevada was 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less. And it’s lost three more games under such situations this season.
Next game: at San Diego State, 7:45 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: Nevada was without five regular starters on its kickoff coverage unit against Utah State, and it showed. The Wolf Pack allowed a kick return for a touchdown for the first time since 2010 and the Aggies averaged 55.5 yards per return on four kick returns.
San Diego State (8-3, 7-0) – It was an odd way to celebrate the first West Division title in the Mountain West.
Plates in hand, a buffet in front of them, the players on San Diego State’s football team gathered in a nondescript ballroom in an off-the-Strip hotel to have their pregame meal on Saturday night before heading off to beat UNLV 52-14.
The first of their season goals had been accomplished when Nevada, the only team with a chance to catch the Aztecs, blew a 20-point second-half lead in a loss to Utah State in the afternoon.
By the time the Aztecs arrived for their meal, the only ones who didn’t know must have been sleeping or charging their phones.
For good measure, coach Rocky Long announced it to the team, let them soak it up for a few seconds, and then added, “If you want to be a special team, you win them all. If you want the best chance to host the championship game, you better win them all.”
Going 8-0 in any league for the first time in school history and getting nine regular-season wins for the first time since 2012 – that is still very much on the table when the Aztecs play their regular-season finale at home Saturday against Nevada.
“That should be motivation enough,” Long said Sunday.
Hosting the league title game? That’s a long shot now. Air Force’s defeat of Boise State on Friday and New Mexico’s loss to Colorado State on Saturday clinched the Mountain Division title for Air Force (8-3, 6-1).
The Falcons then made a big jump past San Diego State in the polls that will determine the championship host. When the composite poll was tallied on Monday, Air Force was at 46.5, with the Aztecs at 55.7.
As long as both teams win out (Air Force goes to New Mexico on Saturday), the Falcons probably won’t lose their lead and will draw the Aztecs at home in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the championship on Dec. 5.
Up next: vs. Nevada, 7:45 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: The Aztecs have been fortunate on the injury front. Every player who began the season as a starter remains available to play.
San Diego Union-Tribune
San Jose State (5-6, 4-3) – The Spartans face what amounts to a play-in game Friday to become bowl eligible with the mandatory six victories.
And they will have to overcome the odds to defeat Boise State, a program that hasn’t lost to San Jose State in 11 meetings.
But the Spartans are riding with confidence after trouncing Hawaii 42-23, whereas Boise State has a two-game losing streak.
Next game: vs. Boise State, 12:30 p.m. Friday (CBS SportsNetwork)
Notable: San Jose State has its most rushing touchdowns since 2004 with 23. This is the fifth time since 1950 that a San Jose State team has rushed and thrown for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.
San Jose Mercury News
UNLV (3-8, 2-5) – The Rebels already weren’t the healthiest team before facing San
Diego State on Saturday.
And now they come off a physical 52-14 loss and hope to have enough to beat Wyoming.
The Aztecs rushed for 286 yards and five touchdowns against UNLV. Donnel Pumphrey rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before taking off most of the final 30 minutes.
“We played against some good rushing teams throughout the course of the year, and I don’t know if any of them beat us up the way they did,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “They were a lot more physical than we were, and it just shows how far we need to go and the things we need to improve on.”
Next game: at Wyoming, 11 a.m. Saturday
Notable: The Rebels haven’t won at Wyoming since 2003.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Air Force (8-3, 6-1) – Karson Roberts’ 550 passing yards in the past two weeks are the most in Air Force history in consecutive conference games and the fourth most in consecutive games in program history.
Only Bob Parker (who wrapped 391 yards against Wyoming and 387 against Colorado State around 295 against Missouri in 1970 for two-game stretches of 686 and 682) and Gary Baxter, who passed for 609 with 388 vs. Wyoming and 211 vs. Missouri in 1969 have had better two-game stretches than Roberts.
Roberts is 59 of 107 on the season with 1,244 yards and six touchdowns. He needs 443 more yards to catch offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen’s record for passing yards in a season since the Falcons switched to an option offense in 1980. Air Force has at least two, possibly three games remaining.
Next game: at New Mexico, 7:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
Notable: The Falcons beat Boise State last week and combined with Colorado State’s victory over New Mexico clinched the Mountain Division title and a spot in the Mountain West championship Dec. 5. The site of the game is to be determined by rankings following this week’s games.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette
Boise State (7-4, 4-3) – The Broncos have allowed 600 yards of offense nine times in
the football program’s 48-year history.
Two of those ugly performances have occurred in the past 13 months against the two Mountain Division teams that run option-based offenses.
That will send second-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates into the offseason seeking answers for the second straight year.
The Broncos are 1-3 against those teams, New Mexico and Air Force, since Yates got the job, including back-to-back losses at home the past two weeks.
“We’re still a good defense,” Yates said Sunday. “We just struggle vs. the option. What I have to do, what we have to do as a staff, is after the season we need to go out and study how to stop the option.”
Next game: at San Jose State, 12:30 p.m. Friday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Receiver Thomas Sperbeck broke the school record for receiving yards in a season last week. He has 76 catches for 1,289 yards with a 17.0-yard average per catch.
(Boise) Idaho Statesman
Colorado State (6-5, 4-3) – The biggest beneficiary of the Rams’ improved
production in the running game has been sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens.
In their past three games – all wins – Colorado State has run for an average of 258 yards and scored eight touchdowns on the ground.
During a 3-5 start to the season, the Rams were averaging just 164 rushing yards a game.
So it wasn’t enough for Stevens, a first-year starter, to simply complete passes to open receivers. With no running game to speak of in losses to Utah State and Boise State, he was trying to carry the entire offense on his shoulders. He didn’t understand the new offense of coach Mike Bobo well enough to take what the defense was giving him while throwing as many as 47 passes in one game – a loss to Utah State – and 30 or more in two others.
Instead of checking into running plays at the line of scrimmage, he was trying to make big plays with his arm. That mentality led to three interceptions in one game, a 41-17 loss to San Diego State.
“The best remedy for a struggling quarterback, if we say he was struggling, is to have a solid running game and to be more balanced,” Bobo said Monday. “I made a concerted effort going into the Wyoming week that I was going to take a lot of pressure off him in the throwing game and I was going to put pressure on our special teams and our defense and our running game, and I think that’s helped.”
Next game: at Fresno State, 6 p.m. Saturday (CBSSports Network)
Notable: Three starting defensive backs left the New Mexico game with injuries, but Bobo said he expects senior safeties Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Louis to play Saturday at Fresno State. Bobo put cornerback Preston Hodges in the “questionable/doubtful” category.
Fort Collins Coloradoan
New Mexico (6-5, 4-3) – Saturday, pending the awarding of the expected bowl
invitation, Lobos coach Bob Davie will say goodbye to 14 scholarship seniors.
That’s not a large group.
Davie wishes it were smaller.
When Davie took over the program in 2012, scholarship numbers were so low in the wake of Mike Locksley’s messy departure that Davie redshirted only four freshmen that year: safety Ryan Santos, wide receiver Ridge Jones, offensive lineman Darian Allen and tight end Christian Rebhun. Jones,
Allen and Santos now are fourth-year juniors; Rebhun has left the program.
In succeeding years, two more members of that 2012 class – offensive lineman Garrett Adcock and quarterback-turned tight end Cole Gautsche – took redshirt years.
Saturday, in the regular-season finale against Air Force, seven fourth-year scholarship seniors will take part in pregame Senior Day activities: wide receiver Carlos Wiggins, linebacker Mike Arredondo, tight end Chris Edling, tight end Reece White, cornerback Cranston Jones, running back David Anaya and wide receiver Marquis Bundy.
Davie said he appreciates the sacrifice the four-year players have made.
“I could go through that whole group of guys,” Davie said. “The story is well-documented. Could have been redshirted, should have been redshirted, weren’t redshirted, and here they are as seniors.
“Unselfish is the word for those guys.”
Next game: vs. Air Force, 7:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
Notable: When and if the anticipated bowl invitation arrives, Davie said he hopes the Lobos stay home and plays in the New Mexico Bowl. “I’d like to see us play another home game here in this stadium,” he said. “For three years I’ve sat around here and hadn’t said much, but it’s kind of gnawed at me to see two other teams playing on our field.”
Utah State (6-5, 5-3) – The Aggies have qualified for their fifth straight bowl game, no
matter what happens against BYU on Saturday at Maverik Stadium.
Utah State is 6-5 after its 31-27 win over Nevada last week. The Aggies rallied from a 27-7 deficit in the third quarter to become bowl eligible.
Six other Mountain West teams also have reached the six-win requirement for bowl participation. Another – San Jose State – can join the group with a victory over Boise State on Friday.
The Mountain West could end up with more eligible teams than available bowl berths, meaning it’s possible a six-win team like Utah State could get left out.
Wells doesn’t see it happening.
“I think seven wins guarantees you a bowl game,” Wells said. “I’d like to think six wins and what we’ve done puts us in a bowl game. But, until you get the invite, you never know.”
Next game: vs. BYU, 12:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton replaced starter Kent Myers in the first quarter against Nevada. Myers suffered a shoulder injury on the first play. His status for the BYU game is in doubt. Keeton needs one touchdown pass to set a school record. He is tied with Jose Fuentes (2000-02) with 60.
Salt Lake Tribune
Wyoming (1-10, 1-6) – Second-year coach Craig Bohl said there have been some
“silver linings” as the Cowboys have endured a one-win season.
One of them comes Saturday when Wyoming hosts UNLV (3-8, 2-5) in the season finale for both squads.
“The No. 1 silver lining is the opportunity to coach these seniors,” Bohl said. “These guys have been really resilient. The record on the field doesn’t indicate progress, but the seniors have done a great job of laying a foundation and modeling strong character and resolve.
“It will be heartwarming for me as the head football coach to send them out. As coaches, we are doing everything we can to come up with a victory.”
Eight seniors will be honored before the game, and Bohl said that’s the fewest he’s had in 35 years as a college coach.
Next game: vs. UNLV, 11 a.m. Saturday
Notable: Sophomore running back Brian Hill needs 57 yards to become the Cowboys’ single-season rushing leader. With 1,399 yards, he ranks ninth in the FBS.
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
- Boise State at San Jose State, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
- UNLV at Wyoming, 11 a.m.
- BYU at Utah State, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
- Colorado State at Fresno State, 6 p.m. (CBSSN)
- Air Force at New Mexico, 7:15 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Nevada at San Diego State, 7:45 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Louisiana-Monroe at Hawaii, 8 p.m.