The spotlight for Fresno State on Saturday against Wyoming is definitely is on the run game, and it would be no matter who the Bulldogs were playing.
There doesn’t figure to be an easy answer against a Cowboys defense that boasts one of the better interior linemen in the Mountain West in tackle Youhanna Ghaifan, a problem at end in Carl Granderson and the conference preseason defensive player of the year in safety Andrew Wingard, who will spend a lot of time in the box.
But the Bulldogs, they need to find some answers.
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Fresno State in a 21-3 victory at Nevada rushed the ball 24 times and gained only 30 yards, and in four games against FBS opponents 47.1 percent of its rushing plays have gone for 2 yards or less, 59.4 percent for 3 yards or less.
The Bulldogs have just five explosive rushing plays of 20 or more yards and are one of three teams in the conference that do not have a run of 30 or more yards. The other two are 2-4 Colorado State and 0-5 San Jose State, company Fresno State does not want to keep.
Sure, Fresno State has played against to national top-50 defenses against the run in Minnesota (39th) and Nevada (48th). But the Bulldogs also have played UCLA (94th) and Toledo (96th).
A year ago, Fresno State was eighth in the Mountain West in rushing yards per game and yards per play. This season, they are 10th and 10th.
It’s more than running against stacked boxes. It’s more than an offensive line that is adjusting to the loss of left tackle Netane Muti, who is out for the season after suffering an Achilles’ tendon injury at Minnesota. It’s more than the running backs. It’s more than quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who in victories at UCLA and against Toledo added to the Bulldogs’ run game.
Coach Jeff Tedford, after Saturday’s win: “Nevada played really hard and played really well. They really did a nice job against our run. We really couldn’t get anything going, got stuck in a lot of long-yardage situations and didn’t play our best offensively.”
Fresno State struggled with all of the movement from Nevada in its 3-3-5, but wasn’t far off on some of its running plays. It allowed only five tackles for loss to a defense that was averaging 9.6 per game and leading the conference, but the Bulldogs’ issue at this point is moving forward at more than 2 yards per play.
The Cowboys’ strength is their defense, which is allowing 5.1 yards per play (fourth in the MW) and has matched up against some good offenses in Washington State (second in the Pac-12 in scoring, 41.8 points per game), Missouri (fourth in the SEC, 39.0), Hawaii (fourth in the MW, 38.4) and Boise State (fifth in the MW, 37.2).
On the road last week at Hawaii, Wyoming allowed only 304 yards and 17 points, the last seven coming on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 1:38 to go.
Hawaii went into that game averaging 495.8 yards and 42.0 points.
“It’s a different matchup this week,” Tedford said. “We’ll do what we need to do to improve it.”