Fresno State clinched a West Division title in the Mountain West with its 13-7 victory at Wyoming and set the matchup for the Dec. 2 conference championship game.
It will play Boise State, which also wrapped up the Mountain Division on Saturday when Wyoming’s fourth-quarter rally fell short.
The Bulldogs and Broncos also will finish the regular season against each other next Saturday at Bulldog Stadium, and while the back-to-back meetings are less than an ideal scenario for the conference it shouldn’t cause too much angst on the second floor of the Duncan Building where coach Jeff Tedford and his staff game-plan.
Tedford and defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer have experience with such endeavors in the Canadian Football League, where teams often play regular-season back-to-back games and meet as many as three times in one season.
When Tedford coached the B.C. Lions in 2015, they played Saskatchewan in back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4 and a third game in Week 15; they played Montreal in Weeks 9 and 11 with a bye in between; and faced Edmonton in Weeks 7, 14 and 17.
In those back-to-backs, they beat Saskatchewan twice and split with Montreal, coming back to win the second on the road.
Steinauer prepped defenses for back-to-backs, as well.
In 2013, his first season as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ defensive coordinator, they played Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, British Columbia, Toronto and Montreal in back-to-back games.
In 2014, ’15 and ’16 the Tiger-Cats played back-to-backs or the same opponent three times in the same season.
For the Bulldogs (8-3, 6-1) , though, that challenge is something they can worry about next week.
Winning the West after going 1-11 cannot be discounted and there was the requisite happy talk afterward.
▪ “I can’t be prouder of this team and I can’t be happier for them,” Tedford said. “The turnaround that they’ve made, the belief and confidence, the hard work they’ve put in, the coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. It’s a great feeling when all the hard work pays off.
▪ “These are the moments I came home for,” said quarterback Marcus McMaryion, the former Dinuba star and a graduate transfer from Oregon State. “It’s unbelievably believable. Those are the words I’d chose to describe it. It’s a blessing to be here and to share moments like this with these guys.”
▪ “It proves that predictions don’t mean anything,” linebacker George Helmuth said. “In the preseason polls we were picked to come in sixth place in the West.
“We just won the West, and we are going to the Mountain West Championship. I want to thank all the new coaches. When they got here they changed the whole culture of the program and got us to this point.”
But there have been cracks developing during a three-game winning streak and throughout this season that could put them up against it versus Boise State.
A quick peek at a few things that Tedford and staff will be working on this week:
The tight end – Boise State tight end Jake Roh has caught 39 passes for 410 yards this season and has nine touchdown receptions, the most in the nation at that position.
As solid as the Bulldogs have been against the pass, they have had difficulty against teams that make use of their tight ends.
Matt Bushman (Brigham Young) had nine receptions for 97 yards; Josh Oliver (San Jose State) caught four for 19 yards and one touchdown; three Washington tight ends combined for five receptions for 117 yards; and Alabama had two tight ends catch three passes for 30 yards and a TD.
Roh is a player the Bulldogs will have to defuse.
Running game – In the victory at Wyoming, the Bulldogs had a 13-0 lead and gained possession at their 41 with 5:19 to go. Execute the 4-minute offense there, gain a couple of first downs, and they could have put the game down.
They went three-and-out.
The Cowboys scored on an 80-yard drive in just 1:52 to cut the deficit to 13-7.
Fresno State got the ball back with 2:25 remaining at the Wyoming 42 after an onside kick went out of bounds. Again, pound the football, churn out a first down, and that’s likely it. Ball game, a win and a smile.
They went three-and-out, again.
Wyoming has a solid run defense, and the weather stunk. It had to be a factor for the Bulldogs.
Operating heavy machinery when it’s in the 30s cannot be easy, especially when its parts come from sunny California (Aaron Mitchell, Christian Cronk, Micah St. Andrew and David Patterson) and Hawaii (Netane Muti).
But Boise State has a better run defense – third in the Mountain West, allowing 3.5 yards per play and 127.3 yards per game.
And in four games since the Bulldogs’ dominating win at San Diego State, they have struggled to rush the ball in the fourth quarter and finish out games. Fresno State ran 53 times in a loss to UNLV and victories versus BYU and at Hawaii and Wyoming and gained 116 yards – just 2.2 yards per play.
Pass defense – The Bulldogs didn’t throw much in the way of pressure at Nick Smith in the fourth quarter and the Wyoming backup (filling in for the injured Josh Allen) ended up passing for 153 yards.
Fresno State had allowed 155 or fewer passing yards in five of its games – but perhaps that was by design given the back-to-back games against Boise State, the second of those for the Mountain West title.
Steinauer and his staff have a lot of defense to put into play, and they’ll have to dial up some pressures against the Broncos to disrupt Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien.
Over the past four games, Rypien has completed 78 of 119 passes for 1,149 yards and 12 touchdowns. His passing efficiency rating there is 178.25, and the Broncos have 22 pass plays of 20 or more yards.
Fresno State has allowed only 20 pass plays of 20 or more yards all season, the fewest in the conference.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BOISE STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 8-3, 6-1 Mountain West; Broncos 9-2, 7-0
- TV/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Broncos have won seven in a row after beating Air Force on Saturday 44-19. Over the past four games, they are averaging 46.3 points per game. Brett Rypien has thrown for 12 TDs and just one interception in that stretch. … Boise State has 14 seniors and that group is the 15th in 16 years to win 40 or more career games. With a victory, the Broncos also would go undefeated in conference play for the first time since 2009 when it was in the WAC. … The Broncos last week were No. 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings, part of the reason they have a large lead on the Bulldogs in determining the host for the Dec. 2 conference final. Even a head-to-head win might not be enough to get Fresno State a home game – the host is determined by teams’ standing in the CFP or composite of four computer rankings.