Fresno State Football

Fresno State at Air Force preview: Bulldogs under pressure to execute offense at higher level

The Fresno State Bulldogs went into a bye week off a win while also taking a step backward, which is possible when New Mexico State is on the schedule.

The offensive execution was lacking in that 30-17 victory over the Aggies and that is the question of the week with the Bulldogs headed to Air Force on Saturday for their Mountain West Conference opener, a game in which plays and possessions will be at a premium.

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Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna, center, passes against Minnesota Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 in Fresno. Reyna completed 24 of 35 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns, but had a pass intercepted in overtime that sealed the Bulldogs’ 38-35 loss to the Golden Gophers. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna didn’t mince his words.

“Everything we do here is not where we want it to be,” he said. “We expect better. We demand better and we need to prepare and execute even better.

“We have to take each day and maximize the opportunities that we have. We don’t have a lot of time. Now it counts. League play, you’re either going to make it to postseason or you’re not.”

The Bulldogs had a chance to take a forward step at New Mexico State, a team was ranked 129th in the nation in scoring defense and total defense.

They did not.

Fresno State (2-2) generated only 386 yards of offense – the Aggies in their first four games had allowed an average of 554.0 total yards.

The Bulldogs converted only 5 of 14 third-down plays, 35.7%.

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Fresno State receiver Derrion Grim, right, hauls in a 34-yard touchdown pass over USC defensive back Chase Williams in the season-opener. Grim leads the Mountain West Conference in yards per catch at 24.0 (seven for 168 yards). Robert Gauthier TNS

They had only two plays of 20 or more yards, both on rushes, and did not have an explosive pass play for the first time in 32 games under coach Jeff Tedford.

The Bulldogs also had a season-low 18 first downs on 13 possessions while going three-and-out only three times. Sustaining drives was an issue – they had one first down or less on nine of those drives and two or less on 11.

If repeated, that could get the Bulldogs in trouble at Air Force.

The Falcons are second in the Mountain West and 14th in the nation in time of possession and their defense has played an average of just 62.6 plays per game.

That does not leave a lot of room for error for the Bulldogs, who coming out of their second bye in the first six weeks of the season are in a clean-up mode.

The details: how to watch, and more

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where: Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs, Colo. (46,692)

TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Aaron Murray, Ashley Holder) Comcast (418, 732), AT&T Uverse (643, 1643), DirecTV (221), Dish (158)

Radio: 940AM/ESPN (Paul Loeffler, Pat Hill and Cameron Worrell)

Records: Bulldogs 2-2, 0-0 in the MW, Falcons 3-2, 1-1

Series: Air Force leads 6-3

Most recent meetings:

2016 – Air Force 31-21

2015 Air Force 42-14

2012 – Bulldogs 48-15

2000 – Air Force 37-34

1997 – Bulldogs 20-17

Vegas line: Air Force -3.5

Weather: high 50s and sunny with an evening low of 31 degrees

Tickets to future Bulldogs home games: gobulldogs.com/559-278-DOGS (3647) or any ticket-resale site. Single-game tickets start at $27. Go to the Fresno State website for details about promotions and pregame and in-game activities.

Bad news for the Bulldogs?

Air Force lost last week at Navy 34-25, and with that loss it blew a shot at the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. That, generally, has not been a good thing for the next team on the Falcons’ schedule.

2018 Beat Navy, then lost at San Diego State

2017 Lost at Navy, then beat UNLV

2016 Beat Navy, then lost at Wyoming

2015 Lost at Navy, then beat Wyoming

2014 Beat Navy, then lost at Utah State

2013 Lost at Navy, then lost to San Diego State

2012 Lost to Navy, then won at Wyoming

2011 Beat Navy, then lost at Notre Dame

The past four times the Falcons have beaten Navy, they have lost their next game. But the past four times they have lost to Navy, they have come back to win their next game three times and the one time they did not was in 2013, when the Falcons obviously had a few other issues in play. They were 2-10 that season.

Air Force undeterred by third-and-long

The Falcons have in the past not been too keen on the forward pass, and this season quarterback Donald Hammond III has completed only 49.1% of his passing attempts.

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Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III, back, throws a pass to tight end Kade Waguespack in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Colorado Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Boulder, Colo. Air Force won 30-23 in overtime. David Zalubowski ASSOCIATED PRESS

But Hammond has had success throwing the football where it might not be expected.

Opposing defenses strive to get the Falcons and their option-based offense into third-and-long situations, forcing an offense that is not adept at throwing the football to do just that to extend a drive. But when facing third down and needing seven or more yards to stay on the field, Hammond has completed 11 of 17 passes (64.7%) for 148 yards and nine first downs.

Air Force, with one completion from Chance Stevenson at Navy, is 12 of 18 for 189 yards with 10 first downs.

Reyna and Fresno State, by comparison, have hit 12 of 23 passes on third-and-longs (52.2%) for 159 yards and only six first downs.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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