Fresno State had a to-do list going to Hawaii and traveling to the islands two days out from kickoff rather than the normal one, and for coach Jeff Tedford it included monitoring the Bulldogs’ peak-performance time, as he called it.
It was not a dauntingly deep list, however, just a few points to hit against an offense that is solid but not particularly spectacular.
The Rainbow Warriors had a quarterback and a running back ranked second in the Mountain West Conference in passing and rushing yards per game in Dru Brown and Diocemy Saint Juste, but they also are tied for seventh in explosive plays of 20 yards or more from scrimmage and just one play out of ninth.
And in a 31-21 victory the Bulldogs hammered some of those points, starting with first down and getting the Rainbow Warriors off schedule.
Hawaii on 27 first-down plays generated only 86 yards, and 18 of them came on one play. That’s 3.2 yards per play, 2.6 aside from that 18-yard pass from Brown to Kumoka Noa in the third quarter. And that’s a tough way to go against an opportunistic defense and when not often chewing up chunks of yardage with big plays. The Bulldogs took care of that, as well. They did not allow an explosive play in a game for the second time this season.
Brown had completed 60.7 percent of his first down throws and averaged 6.7 yards per play, but was just 5 of 14 for 40 yards, 3.1 yards per play.
Saint Juste had averaged 6.0 yards rushing on first down plays, but the Rainbow Warriors mustered just 46 yards on 12 plays, 3.8 per play.
“It was the same game plan we have every week – get to the ball and stop the runs,” said defensive end Tobenna Okeke, who had six tackles including five solo and three sacks and who also forced two fumbles.
“The coaching staff had great play-calling, I give them all the credit. We were just focused on executing the plays and doing our jobs.”
That is a bit of a switch, and here’s another. It might come as a shock, retroactively, considering that record, that 1-11. Fresno State a year ago ranked second in the Mountain West in total defense in conference play. It is ranked second again this year. But there is a big difference this season from last … more than 100 yards difference per game.
The Bulldogs allowed an average of 394.3 yards in its eight conference games a year ago and is allowing just 282.7 this season, picking up 111.6 yards.
Since Fresno State has been in the Mountain West, there have been only two teams that improved its total defense by 100 or more yards in one season.
Wyoming is on a run that exceeds even Fresno State, which sets up an interesting matchup on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys this season have allowed 343.8 yards per game, down from 473.0.
Fresno State in its first six Mountain West games has allowed only 4.2 yards per play, the best mark in the conference and the fourth best in the nation behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 16 Washington and No. 5 Wisconsin and ahead of No. 8 Ohio State, No. 2 Miami and No. 23 South Florida.
On that Broyles Award nomination, Steinauer had this to say: “I don’t really even have a comment other than, ‘What a great opportunity to get my staff recognized.’ That’s the first thing that comes into it. The job that coach (Jamar) Cain, coach (Bert) Watts and coach J.D. (Williams) have done, it has been unbelievable. That’s what I thought about it. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s really cool that our staff gets recognized.’
“It’s not an inward thing with me. These game plans, the players playing hard, yeah, it starts from the top. Coach Tedford put this staff together and what a cool way to recognize Fresno State, first of all. Credit to coach Tedford, and then it’s really a credit to my staff. That’s what I think of the award. How cool for them … ”
Fresno State in conference play has allowed only 12 plays of 20 or more yards, the fewest in the Mountain West and in the nation. It has 19 sacks, 3.2 per game, which is leading the conference and tied for 13th in the nation. It has allowed only 13.5 points per game, again leading the MW and third in the nation.
Tedford didn’t have that peak performance time down to the second, but a 41-minute delay in the second quarter due to lightning in the area around Aloha Stadium set the Bulldogs right. Hawaii ran nine plays after the delay and before halftime with a net gain of zero yards, and the Bulldogs forced two turnovers in the second half with one fumble recovery and one interception.
“We were focused on coming out of the delay and taking the momentum to our side,” Okeke said. “That’s what we did. We’ve never had a situation like that before, but I’m proud of the way we responded to it.”
The offense settled in as well after the delay, finishing the first half with two touchdown drives to take a 21-7 lead and then pushing to 31-7 in the third quarter.
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion hit only three of his first 10 passes, but hit 16 of 26 the rest of the way and threw four touchdown passes, his first on the road this season.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
- Saturday: 11 a.m. PST at War Memorial Stadium (29,181) in Laramie, Wyo.
- Records: Bulldogs 7-3, 5-1 Mountain West; Cowboys 7-3, 5-1
- TV/radio: AT&T, ROOT (AT&T UVerse 757, 1757; DirecTV 684)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Cowboys are led by Firebaugh-product Josh Allen, who has taken some lumps this season without his top wideout, running back and tight end from a year ago and was knocked out of a 28-14 victory over Air Force on Saturday by injury. His status against the Bulldogs is to be determined. … Allen is ranked seventh in the conference in passing efficiency at 123.98. He has completed only 56.2 percent of his passes and is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, ninth in the Mountain West. … The Cowboys are leading in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 18.1 points per game. The Bulldogs started the weekend in the lead at 18.0 and are now second at 18.3 ppg. … At 5-1 in conference play Wyoming is in contention in the Mountain, but does have a loss to division-leading Boise State.