A look at Saturday afternoon’s matchup in Fort Collins, Colo.
FRESNO STATE AT COLORADO STATE
Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium (34,400)
Records: Bulldogs 1-8, 0-5 Mountain West; Rams 4-4, 2-2
Webcast/radio: MW Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Forecast: Partly cloudy, 64 degrees
Keys to victory
1 QB run game – This has been a huge hole in Fresno State’s ground attack all year, and if Chason Virgil is not going to be a factor with the zone-read option, then maybe it is time to give backup Zach Kline a shot. Fresno State is last in the conference in rushing offense, but that is not all on the offensive line or the backs. The Bulldogs have to make opposing defenses honor the QB run or continue to founder. Five times in their nine games they haven’t cracked 100 rushing yards.
2 Win at the line – Fresno State has struggled to stop the run all year, and in a loss to Air Force last week was pushed around at the line of scrimmage. The Rams are far from the best team rushing the football in the Mountain West, but an opponent’s average hasn’t much mattered against the Bulldogs. Nevada is eighth in the league in rushing at 169.8 yards per game and it churned out 226 against Fresno State. Utah State is ninth at 164.3 and gained 204. The Rams, with three seniors on their line, are more than capable.
3 Hit some passes – It comes back to quarterback play, again. Virgil has not been very consistent, completing 51.4 percent of his passes. But there could be some opportunities against the Rams, who have allowed opposing teams to hit 61.3 percent of their passes and are allowing 8.4 yards per pass play – those numbers are 11th and tied for 10th in the conference. The Bulldogs have enough depth to be a problem, especially if Aaron Peck is able to go after dealing with an ankle injury.
Fresno State’s freakish 2016 road show will come to an end Saturday at Colorado State, with one last reminder of just how difficult a supposedly neutral computer program can be for some college football teams.
The Bulldogs opened Mountain West Conference play with back-to-back road games in consecutive weeks against UNLV and Nevada, becoming the sixth team in league history to have to do that.
The fifth? That was the Bulldogs last season, opening at San Diego State and San Jose State.
So, two seasons in a row, they have had to do something that only a tiny fraction of the 156 teams that have put on the pads for a Mountain West season have had to do.
Fresno State also played on the road three times in its first four conference games, and there have been only six to do that, too.
But the fun generated by The Sports Scheduling Group, which handles scheduling for the Mountain West as well as Major League Baseball and a number of college conferences, including the Big Ten and Southeastern, didn’t stop there.
The Bulldogs went to Utah State on Oct. 22 and caught the Aggies coming off a bye week, a situational boon for the latter. They were 4-0 under coach Matt Wells coming off a bye and, of course, now are 5-0 after beating Fresno State 38-20.
Fresno State this week catches Colorado State and it, too, is well rested coming off a bye.
“Unlucky,” interim coach Eric Kiesau said. “But that’s how the cards fell, and you just have to deal with them. You can’t complain about it. You can’t change it.
“You just have to prepare and understand that they have an extra week of preparation. It’s just about our preparation, really.”
The Bulldogs get their bye after playing the Rams, next lining up Nov. 19 against Hawaii at Bulldog Stadium.
Zzzzz’s – Kiesau, who took over when Tim DeRuyter was let go Oct. 23 after a loss at Utah State, is learning the hard way the differences between being a head coach and an offensive or defensive coordinator through his sleep patterns – or lack thereof.
“There’s a difference between sleep and rest,” he said. “I’m resting. My mind is still wandering. I’m always turning. I think in the last two nights I’ve had maybe a cumulative three hours of rest. It’s different. I used to sleep. Now I’m resting. There’s a big difference, and I didn’t know that until a week and a half ago.”
More Rice – Freshman running back Justin Rice has been working his way into the playing rotation behind Dontel James the past few weeks, playing sparingly.
He had three carries at Nevada, none against San Diego State and Utah State, then one late last week in a loss to Air Force.
The Bulldogs would like to get the 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman out of Central Catholic High-Modesto more touches, considering they took Rice out of a redshirt season midway through the year.
That may happen this week against the Rams, after backup Treyvon Green came out of the Air Force game dinged up.
“He’s a good player. He’s still young, still a freshman, and we did use his year so we want to make sure he’s productive with that year,” Kiesau said.
“He’ll be in there more. He’s a tough guy and will run you over. I like that about him. We just have to find more ways to get him the ball.”
Ward-Bobo matchup – It is just an interesting sidebar to what will happen today at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo., but Fresno State defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and Colorado State coach Mike Bobo have matched wits before.
Bobo was the offensive coordinator at Georgia from 2007 to 2014 before he was hired by the Rams. Ward was the defensive coordinator at South Carolina before he was hired at Fresno State, working with assistant head coach-defense Ellis Johnson in 2009 in his first year as coordinator.
Those teams met six times, with South Carolina going 4-2 including a 35-7 win in 2012 over a Georgia team that was ranked fifth in the nation.
“They’re going to run, play-action pass you, run, play-action pass you,” Ward said. “They’re going to try to outflank you with formations and get your eyes in the wrong place and try to outleverage you. They really like to attack the perimeter. They’re going to get into one-back personnel groupings and create two-back sets.
“That’s what they do … pretty much what we’ve seen all season.”
Meaningless stat of the week – The Bulldogs are third in the nation in passing defense, allowing 159.3 yards per game.
Key point: Opponents are averaging 21 pass attempts per game, the fewest in the nation.
And that is at least partly because the opposition is running it 53.6 times per game, the highest average in the nation, and churning out 272.8 yards per game on the ground.
The per-game yardage average is 126th of 128 in the nation, ahead of Louisiana-Monroe (275.4) and Cal (286.6).
Freshman fling – Chason Virgil has had an inconsistent season, but he became the third freshman at Fresno State to top 2,000 passing yards.
Virgil, after an early-season injury forced him into a redshirt year in 2015, has hit 165 of 321 passes (51.4 percent) for 2,013 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions – a passing efficiency rating of 111.21.
Paul Pinegar set the Bulldogs’ freshman record with 2,929 yards in 2002, completing 230 of 403 (57 percent) with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 129.54 rating.
Kevin Sweeney is the only other Fresno State quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards as a freshman, racking up 2,359 in 1983. Sweeney completed 166 of 334 passes (49.7 percent) with 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, posting a rating of 113.46.
Et cetera – Fresno State is averaging 111.9 rushing yards per game, which would be the lowest by a Mountain West team since Hawaii in 2012 checked in at 108.6.
▪ The Rams, much like Fresno State, have some young players in their first seasons of college football. They have had 24 make their debuts and 21 their first career starts; eight true freshmen have played. Twenty-nine Bulldogs have debuted, with nine making their first career starts, and seven true freshmen having played.
▪ Colorado State has scored in each of its past 12 quarters. The Bulldogs’ season long is seven, scoring in all four quarters at Utah State and the first three against Air Force at home.
▪ The Bulldogs’ seven-game losing streak is tied for the longest in the nation. Kansas and Florida Atlantic also have dropped seven in a row. The Jayhawks will play this week at No. 14 West Virginia, and Florida Atlantic will play at Rice with a chance to win in a battle between the Owls. Both the Owls of Rice and Owls of Florida Atlantic are 1-7.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada