Fresno State Football

For Bulldogs, first 15 minutes at Boise State is high on list of things to watch

Marcus McMaryion previews Bulldogs’ crucial matchup at Boise State

Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion previews the Bulldogs' matchup against the Boise State Broncos at Albertsons Stadium on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The Broncos recruited McMaryion out of Dinuba High, before he signed with Oregon State.
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Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion previews the Bulldogs' matchup against the Boise State Broncos at Albertsons Stadium on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The Broncos recruited McMaryion out of Dinuba High, before he signed with Oregon State.

Fresno State all season has been a legitimate player in the Group of Five race to secure a spot in a New Years Six bowl game, so any game it plays has carried additional significance.

One loss, and that is just about over.

On Friday the Bulldogs get another loaded game at Boise State, where they have not won since 1984. The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-0 Mountain West) opened as 2-point favorites, even though the Broncos (7-2, 4-1) are 111-8 at Albertsons Stadium since 2000.

That is the best home winning percentage in the nation over that time: .933

Then again, the Bulldogs are 7-0 in conference road games during the regular season under coach Jeff Tedford, and all but one of those wins have come by 10 or more points.

Here are some things to watch:

Breaking out of the gates

Boise State has scored 108 points in the first quarter of its games, the second highest total in the Mountain West. In four home games, the Broncos have averaged 16.5 points in the opening 15 minutes, with a high of 24 in a rout of Connecticut.

The Bulldogs have not started all that well on the road, at least on offense. Fresno State has averaged just 6.0 points in the first quarter away from Bulldog Stadium.

Fresno State safety Mike Bell and the Bulldogs have a tough matchup against the Boise State Broncos and quarterback Brett Rypien at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, and will have to guard against the Broncos' fast starts.

The Bulldogs don’t figure to lack juice coming out of the locker room at Albertsons Stadium, where when last seen they were blowing a second-half lead (up 14-10 with five minutes to go) and losing to the Broncos in the Mountain West championship game.

But the first 15 minutes of the game could be crucial, and the Broncos and quarterback Brett Rypien have been breaking from the gate very quickly.

Rypien in the first quarter of the past three games:

  • Colorado State: 8 of 10, 123 yards, 2 TDs

  • Air Force: 7 of 8, 124 yards, 2 TDs

  • BYU: 8 of 9, 89 yards, 1 TD

  • Total: 23 of 27, 336 yards, 5 TDs

Fresno State obviously can’t afford to let the home team get that kind of a start, not if the offense is going to get off to a slow start. The Bulldogs have scored on their opening possession just once in the past five games, though it was the last one, at UNLV.

Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford previews a critical Mountain West Conference football matchup against the Boise State Broncos at Albertsons Stadium on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The Bulldogs go in ranked No. 16 and on a seven-game winning streak.

Pressure plays

Fresno State has not been able to get an excruciating amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, ranking seventh in the conference with 16.0 sacks, but a well-timed and well-placed hit could be big in this game.

Boise State has had some trouble protecting Rypien — the Broncos have allowed 2.6 sacks per game, eighth in the conference — and the Bulldogs could get a bonus if they can get home with their pass rush and get a bounce or two.

The Broncos have fumbled the football 15 times, tied with Utah State for 10th in the conference. Only Nevada, with 16, has fumbled more often. Boise State has been able to fall on all but four, the Broncos’ lost fumble percentage of 26.7 the best in the conference and tied for seventh in the nation.

Rypien has six of those 15 fumbles and lost two. The quarterback also was involved in two team fumbles from scrimmage.

Fresno State has forced only five fumbles from scrimmage this season, none of them in conference play. But four of the five have come on hits on a quarterback

Defensive tackle Jasad Haynes knocked the ball loose from Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino, making a tackle for a loss of 7 yards.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled twice against Fresno State, one recovered by Patrick Belony and the other on a hit by defensive end Mykal Walker.

Walker also had a sack and a forced fumble on a hit on Toledo quarterback Mitchell Guadagni.

McMaryion run threat

The Bulldogs have had a rough time rushing the football against defenses that are not quite at the level of Boise State, which is allowing 128.0 yards per game on the ground to rank fourth in the conference.

UNLV has the worst rush defense in the Mountain West, but the Bulldogs running backs didn’t get much done last week against the Rebels. Ronnie Rivers had 33 yards on 12 plays, 2.8 yards per play, including a 2-yard touchdown; Josh Hokit had two carries for 6 yards including a 5-yard touchdown; Jordan Mims had just one carry for 5 yards; Dejonte O’Neal had three plays for 14 yards, one going for 10 yards.

Saevion Johnson carried the ball three times in the fourth quarter long after the outcome had been decided and ended up the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 47 yards.

But the Broncos have to be leery of quarterback Marcus McMaryion, the top quarterback in the conference by completion percentage and passing efficiency rating, turning himself into a running back as he did in that 48-3 rout at UNLV.

And he did last season in two games against Boise State.

In the first game, McMaryion had four rushes for 27 yards, including two for first downs along with one at the goal line for no gain and the other a 7-yard gain on a third-and-8 play.

In the second game, he had seven rushes including two sacks and accounted for two first downs and two red-zone rushing touchdowns.

McMaryion can open up the run game, with his legs and also with his arm with quick passes outside. And when McMaryion has been productive in the run game, it usually has meant good things for Fresno State.

He has averaged better than 5.0 yards per rush eight times over the past season-plus and the Bulldogs are 7-1 in those games, the only loss last year at No. 1 Alabama.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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