Fresno State

Bulldogs true freshman Evan Williams turns opportunity in secondary into Mountain West honors

Fresno State deployed a nickel defense at Hawaii, putting a fifth defensive back on the field Saturday night.

Evan Williams, a true freshman safety out of Saint Francis High-Mountain View who had all of two tackles in the Bulldogs’ first seven games, was tabbed for the duty.

Williams went out in his first career start and racked up nine tackles including seven solo stops and had a fourth-quarter interception that led to a Fresno State touchdown in a 41-38 victory, earning Mountain West Conference defensive player of the week honors.

He is the second Bulldogs player to earn the conference honor this season – linebacker Justin Rice was defensive player of the week following a 56-27 victory over UNLV. He also is the first true freshman to be honored since 2013 when Fresno State kicker Colin McGuire was the special teams player of the week after a 52-51 victory over Rutgers.

The Bulldogs defense had allowed nine explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards in the three games before playing at Hawaii, but its nickel defense made the going difficult for starting quarterback Cole McDonald. He came in as the Mountain West’s top passer at 315.1 yards per game.

McDonald threw for 275 yards, but he hit only 21 of 42 passes. The 50% completion percentage was his lowest of the season, as was a passing efficiency rating of 108.10.

In his first eight games, McDonald had an efficiency rating of 151.43.

The Rainbow Warriors in the fourth quarter benched their fourth-year junior quarterback, going with redshirt freshman Chevan Cordeiro.

Cordeiro led Hawaii to two touchdowns in the final three minutes to wipe out the Bulldogs’ 38-24 lead before Fresno State went 55 yards in nine plays in the final 1:08 with Cesar Silva kicking a game-winning 37-yard field goal.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada