Fresno State at Wyoming a year ago was a struggle for both teams.
Moving the football, not easy. The Bulldogs had just 333 yards of offense and 15 first downs, the Cowboys had 308 and 12. The final score: Fresno State, 13-7.
A big reason the Bulldogs were stymied in that game was Wyoming’s defensive front and particularly tackle Youhanna Ghaifan, and that was with experienced starters Aaron Mitchell at center, Micah St. Andrew at right guard and Netane Muti at left guard.
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Mitchell at that time was making his 35th career start, St. Andrew was making his 28th and Muti was making his 11th.
Ghaifan still is there – the 282-pound junior is tied for fifth in the Mountain West Conference with 6.5 tackles for loss, and coming off a productive game at Hawaii in which he had five tackles, one sack and broke up two pass plays.
And Fresno State is much less experienced at the interior offensive line positions.
St. Andrew moved to center from right guard in fall camp and has started the Bulldogs’ first five games there. Senior Markus Boyer has started all five games at right guard and JC transfer Nick Abbs has started the past three games at left guard, moving into the lineup after Muti was lost for the season with an Achilles’ injury at Minnesota.
That could make Ghaifan even more trouble on Saturday for the Bulldogs.
“No. 93 (Ghaifan), he’s a guy you absolutely have to know where he’s at, you have to be able to study his film and know his moves,” offensive line coach Ryan Grubb said. “He’s power, he’s speed, he’s athleticism. He’s a really good player, and he plays hard.”
A year ago the Bulldogs rushed 45 times against the Cowboys and churned out 147 yards, the 3.3 yards per rush their lowest against every team not named Alabama.
Wyoming in five games against FBS opponents this season has allowed 3.5 yards per rush and 117.2 yards per game, ranking second in the conference, and fatigue could be a factor there. The Cowboys’ defense was stuck on the field for 91 plays in a loss at Missouri and for 89 in a loss to Boise State; those rushing defense numbers could be even better.
Fresno State last week struggled against Nevada and all of the movement in its 3-3-5 defense, but Wyoming plays a 4-down front.
That could make Saturday a good bounce-back spot for the Bulldogs’ run game, which generated only 30 yards on 24 plays in the 21-3 victory at Nevada. They will not have to prepare for as many looks as they would against a 3-3-5 stack team, and the last time they matched up against a 4-3 defense they ran the ball well after a sluggish start.
That would be Toledo, a 49-27 victory. In the second half against the Rockets they rushed for 126 yards on 22 plays, 5.7 yards per play.
There, the execution was much better in the second half.
That will be half the battle for the Bulldogs against Wyoming, which has the best defensive front that Fresno State has seen to this point with Ghaifan and end Carl Granderson, both first-team all-conference selections last season.