Fresno State once again defused a potent offense with a 21-3 victory over Nevada on Saturday night. Sure, Nevada was missing its injured starting quarterback, but it’s not like the Wolf Pack didn’t have chances.
The Bulldogs defense was on the field for a trying 86 plays and still allowed Nevada only 327 yards of total offense, just 3.8 yards per play.
Fresno State has not defended that many plays since a 2016 game against Tulsa, and that one went into double overtime before the Golden Hurricane won 48-41. A big difference between that game and Saturday night in Reno: The Bulldogs had only 271 yards of offense Saturday, leaving the defense in high-pressure situations all night. And the Bulldogs were not fazed one bit.
“We live for that pressure,” said linebacker Jeff Allison, who racked up a career-high 17 tackles including 10 solo. “We live for that adversity. That only makes us better.”
At 4-1 and 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference, it’s not so much the glossy statistics, but the way that the Bulldogs are putting them together.
They are taking away what an opponent does best, turning strengths into weaknesses.
Nevada came in with 27 explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied for sixth in the nation. Nevada came up with no explosive plays against the Bulldogs. The shots Nevada took down the field were snuffed out by Tank Kelly and Jaron Bryant.
Wolf Pack running back Toa Taua came into Saturday averaging 7.5 yards per rush. He carried the ball 10 times and gained just 26 yards.
One week earlier, Toledo arrived with a big-play offense, too, averaging 51.0 points per game with a set of receivers who could make plays down the field. Through three quarters, when the Bulldogs had their starters on the field in a 49-27 rout, the Rockets had just two explosive pass plays. They were averaging 3.8 yards a play, had just 199 yards of offense and 13 points.
Diontae Johnson, Toledo’s leading receiver, went into that game averaging 20.5 yards per reception. He had just three catches for 21 yards, one going for 18 yards.
Before that, UCLA. Sure, the Bruins were (and still are) a bit of a mess, but they had a tight end in Caleb Wilson who is a tough matchup, and was leading UCLA in receiving. The Bulldogs shut him out. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson targeted Wilson three times, but he did not catch a pass.
Nevada quarterback Cristian Solano, making his first start in place of injured Ty Gangi, made some plays with his feet early using designed runs and scrambles away from pressure.
He picked up 15 yards on a second-and-6, 7 yards on a third-and-4, 13 yards on a fourth-and-2, 11 yards on a second-and-4.
Allison and the Bulldogs righted themselves.
“The adjustments we made, it was just on us,” Allison said. “We weren’t tracking. We weren’t going left shoulder-right shoulder like we practice every day.
“We were kind of overrunning the ball and they were cutting back on it. We just had to get our stuff together and focus on what we do best.”
Fresno State extended a streak of consecutive games allowing less than 30 points to 16, tied for the second-longest in the nation. Kelly, Juju Hughes and Mike Bell had interceptions, bringing the total to 11 in just five games; the Bulldogs are tied for second in the nation in interceptions and turnover margin.
The Bulldogs didn’t allow Nevada to run a play inside Fresno State’s 20-yard line until deep into the fourth quarter. The Wolf Pack got close on the second-quarter drive that produced their field goal. But on a third-and-3 from the 20, Allison and George Helmuth hit Solano for a 4-yard loss.
The Nevada drives at the end were stopped with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-8 from the Fresno State 10 and then when the clock hit 0:00 after a 5-yard run got the Wolf Pack to the 17.
And, one game into conference play it may be premature to consider such things, but the Bulldogs have something to shoot for …
Mountain West teams that allowed less than 100 points in conference play:
Team and year
TCU in 2008
TCU in 2010
TCU in 2009
BYU in 1999
Fresno State this week plays Wyoming, which has scored only 11 touchdowns in six games and is last in the conference and 127th in the nation in scoring offense. The Cowboys are averaging just 17.5 points per game. The Bulldogs are looking to get better.
“We didn’t play to our potential, but we came out with a dub,” Allison said. “We did what we had to do. The defense, I’m proud of the defense. We were going against a very good offense that puts up a lot of points.
“They averaged probably 40 or 50 points a game. To keep them to three, that’s a great accomplishment, but overall we still have to get better. We have things to fix, especially at the end of the game.”
By the numbers
12 – First downs for Fresno State. The last time the Bulldogs won a game with 12 or fewer first downs? It was 2004, a 35-16 win at Washington when they had 11 first downs. In that game they scored two touchdowns on interception returns (James Sanders and Richard Marshall) and another on a fumble return (Brian Morris) while the offense generated only 262 total yards on 56 plays.
47.6 – Yards per punt for Blake Cusick in his first game this season kicking at altitude. One of his nine punts traveled 72 yards, three touched down inside the 20.
7 – Receptions for KeeSean Johnson, who moved past Isaiah Burse and into fourth place on the Bulldogs’ all-time receptions list. Johnson now has 213 career receptions; next up on the list is Rodney Wright, who had 222 receptions from 1998-2001.
30 – Rushing yards for the Bulldogs. The last time Fresno State won a game with 30 rushing yards? It hasn’t happened going back through 2000.
0 – Points scored by Fresno State off its three interceptions. Its best “drive” following a pick was three plays, 3 yards. The Bulldogs had scored 69 points off turnovers in their first four games, nine touchdowns and two field goals.
10 – Fresno State drives that lasted less than two minutes. It had 14 series in the game, and two of the four that lasted longer than two minutes were 2:05 and 2:12. The Wolf Pack held a substantial advantage in time of possession, 35:26 to 24:34.
32 – The Bulldogs’ average starting field position was their 32-yard line.
25 – Total yards allowed by the Bulldogs’ defense on an opponent’s first drive in the second half of its five games. The Wolf Pack had just 1 yard. Fresno State has allowed only one first down on those initial drives, by Toledo.
4 – Sacks for the Bulldogs – linebacker James Bailey and defensive tackle Kevin Atkins had solo sacks and Allison and Helmuth and defensive tackles Keiti Iakopo and Patrick Belony had assists on sacks. In two games the Bulldogs have gone from 3.0 sacks and tied for 10th in the Mountain West to 12.0 and tied for fifth.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State 21, Nevada 3
FRE—Rivers 19 pass from McMaryion (Fuller kick), 13:11
NEV—FG Ahmed 41, 8:00
FRE—Rivers 2 run (Fuller kick), 10:20
FRE—K.Johnson 27 pass from McMaryion (Fuller kick), 8:28
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Fresno St., Rivers 5-12, Mims 8-11, O’Neal 6-9, C.Coleman 1-3, Hardaway 1-1, (Team) 1-(minus 1), McMaryion 2-(minus 5). Nevada, Solano 23-71, Moore 6-28, Taua 10-26, D.Lee 2-6, Kincaide 1-2, Mannix 1-(minus 1).
PASSING—Fresno St., McMaryion 20-28-0-241. Nevada, Solano 22-43-3-195.
RECEIVING—Fresno St., K.Johnson 7-65, Ja.Rice 3-98, Jordan 3-19, Mims 2-16, O’Neal 2-7, Rivers 1-19, C.Coleman 1-11, Grim 1-6. Nevada, Fossum 12-97, Mannix 4-55, Cooks 3-19, Doubs 2-18, Roberson 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.