FINAL: Fresno State 56, UNLV 27
Fresno State righted itself a bit with a 56-27 victory over UNLV on Friday at Bulldog Stadium, taking advantage of five turnovers to produce a season-high in points.
Fresno State running back Josh Hokit scored three touchdowns, reaching the end zone runs of 1, 1 and 6 yards. And fellow back Ronnie Rivers scored twice with runs of 7 and 11 yards in the Mountain West contest.
The Bulldogs ground game as a whole amassed 260 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
Fresno State (3-3, 1-1 in the MW) did struggle again in the third quarter, but still was able to run away from the Rebels, who were coming in off a victory at Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs started to pull away from the Rebels when linebacker Justin Rice scored on an 18-yard fumble return with 3:49 to go in the third quarter. Quarterback Jorge Reyna followed by hitting tight end Jared Rice with a 12-yard pass with 12:19 remaining in the fourth.
The Bulldogs then put the game away a short time later by turning interceptions from linebacker Arron Mosby and safety Juju Hughes into touchdowns.
Fresno State was coming off a 43-24 loss last week at Air Force, which marked the first time in coach Jeff Tedford’s three seasons taht the Bulldogs started Mountain West play with a loss.
Friday night’s game drew a season-low announced crowd of 26,256.
Last month, Fresno State attracted 34,790 in its home opener against Minnesota and 31,034 against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Sacramento State.
Hughes with another pick, ‘Dogs with another score
The Fresno State has taken advantage of another UNLV turnover, Josh Hokit scoring his third rushing touchdown, this one on a 6-yard run to out the Bulldogs up 56-20.
The Bulldogs’ defense has forced five turnovers, the latest an interception by safety Juju Hughes.
Fresno State has extended its least to 49-20 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Hokit, his second of the game.
The TD, coming with 11:50 to go, was set up by an interception and return by linebacker Arron Mosby.
Reyna to Rice
The Brothers Rice are both on the board now with Jorge Reyna hitting tight end jared Rice with a 12-yard touchdown pass with 12:19 to go in the game, extending the Bulldogs lead to 42-20.
Reyna is now 16 of 23 for 229 yards and one TD.
Bulldogs up 35-20 at end of three
Fresno State is 15 minutes of football away from evening its conference record at 1-1. It also has 2-0 this season when leading after three quarters and 22-2 when leading after three in two-plus seasons under coach Jeff Tedford.
Mykal Walker is leading the Bulldogs with eight tackles, all of them solo stops. Walker, back playing defensive end, also has one tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Justin Rice to the rescue
The Fresno State defense just did what the offense hasn’t been able to for quite some time, scoring a touchdown on an 18-yard fumble return by linebacker Justin Rice.
Defensive tackle Keiti Iakopo was credited with the forced fumble, stripping the ball from running back Charles Williams.
The Bulldogs lead is now 35-20 with 3:49 to go in the third quarter.
Bulldogs drive stalls
Fresno State, which has not scored a touchdown in the third quarter since losing to Minnesota in the second game of the season, came up empty on a drive that ended at the UNLV 3-yard line.
Kicker Cesar Silva missed this third field goal of the game, this one from only 20 yards.
UNLV gets a FG, cuts Bulldogs lead to 28-20
The Rebels started the second half like they did the first, driving inside the Bulldogs 10-yard line before settling for a short field goal, this one from 22 yards.
Fresno State, which went three-and-out with its opening possession in the second half, leads 28-20 with 9:03 to go in the quarter.
Painting the red zone
Fresno State has four touchdowns on four trips into the red zone, a huge improvement from the first five games.
The Bulldogs had scored a touchdown on only 12 of their first 24 red zone possessions, the 50% ranking 10th in the Mountain West ahead of only Nevada and Utah State.
They also had come in averaging just 2.03 yards when rushing the ball in the red zone – 69 yards on 34 plays. The Fresno State touchdown rns have covered 1, 1, 11 and 3 yards.
Charles Williams update
UNLV running back Charles Williams, the former Bullard High star, has just 63 rushing yards in 19 plays at halftime.
Williams has had big games against his hometown team, rushing for 153 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in 2016 and 121 yards last season.
About those big plays …
Fresno State went into the game having allowed only 12 pass plays of 20 or more yards, ranking first in the Mountain West and tied for ninth in the nation.
UNLV had three in the first half going for 45, 23 and 60 yards. It also went into the game with only 11, ranking last in the conference and tied for 123rd in the nation.
Reyna run extends lead
Fresno State has extedned its lead to 28-10 on a 3-yard run by quarterback Jorge Reyna with 41 seconds to go in the first half and now has 197 rushing yards on just 18 plays, averaging 10.9 yards per play.
Most of that yardage has come from wideout Jalen Cropper and Reyna, though.
Cropper has 91 rushing yards on two plays and Reyna has 50 and the touchdown on three plays.
Ronnie Rivers has 36 yards and two TDs on nine plays and Josh Hokit has 20 yards and one TD on four plays.
The 197 rushing yards is the third most they have had this season. The Bulldogs rushed for 239 yards at New Mexico State and 206 at USC.
Rivers’ second TD has ‘Dogs up 21-10
Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers has his second TD run of the game, this one from 11 yards out, and the Bulldogs have a 21-10 lead on UNLV.
The TD was set up by a 40-yard run by quarterback Jorge Reyna.
Rivers has doubled his rushing touchdown total, coming into the game with two. He had one against one against Sacramento State and one last week in the loss at Air Force.
On Cropper’s runs …
The Bulldogs’ Jalen Cropper now has 82- and 79-yard runs this season, the longest and third longest runs in the Mountain West this season.
In between the two runs by the Fresno State freshman is an 80-yard run by Wyoming back Trey Smith against Idaho. The Rebels’ Charles Williams has the fourth longest run in the conference this season, 78 yards against Arkansas State.
The 79-yard run by Cropper went for a touchdown at New Mexico State.
Bulldogs back on top
Fresno State got the lead back on a 2-yard run by Josh Hokit with 13:19 to go in the second quarter, up 14-10.
The touchdown was set up by an 82-yard run by Jalen Cropper on the first play of the drive.
UNLV back on top
UNLV is back in front 10-7 after Randal Grimes, the brother of Fresno State basketball player Nate Grimes, pulled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Kenyon Oblad.
The Rebels drive was 72 yards in 13 plays and they have 146 yards to 38 for the Bulldogs.
Bulldogs cash in on a second try …
Fresno State just got an interception by linebacker Levelle Bailey, who returned it to the UNLV 25-yard line.
This time, Jorge Reyna was able to hit a third-down throw and Ronnie Rivers scored on a 7-yard touchdown run.
The Bulldogs lead 7-3 with 5:19 to go in the opening quarter.
The rushing touchdown was the 14th against UNLV this season, tying Colorado State for most in the Mountain West.
Turnover turns into … nothing
Fresno State recovered a fumble at the UNLV 32-yard line, but went three-and-out again before Cesar Silva came on to attempt a 47-yard field goal. He missed short and right.
The Bulldogs have run six plays and gained eight yards.
UNLV came into the game ranked 10th in the Mountain West in total defense, allowing 6.1 yards per play and 431.8 yards per game.
Silva had hit his last four field goal attempts from 28, 38, 24 and 47 yards.
Bulldogs’ streak busted
Fresno State went three-and-out, ending a streak at two games scoring a touchdown on its first drive. It had an 82-yard drive in its victory at New Mexico State and an 85-yard drive in a loss at Air Force.
Rebels break on top
UNLV took the opening kickoff and made it to the Fresno State 5-yard line before settling for a 22-yard field goal. The Rebels lead 3-0.
Charles Williams, the former Bullard High star, had five carries on the drive for 23 yards.
It is the fourth time this season and second game in a row the Bulldogs have allowed points on an opponent’s opening drive.
Some pre-game observations …
For Bulldogs, question of the night …
Fresno State has started a different offensive line in four consecutive games now, and it could become five on Friday night.
The Bulldogs did some tinkering in practice, and not just at left guard where Netane Muti has now been ruled out for the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Question of the night: Can they muster a run game in the box against a Rebels defense that has struggled to stop the run?
UNLV is ranked 10th in the Mountain West in rushing defense, allowing 5.5 yards per play and 209.7 yards per game, even while playing an FCS opponent in Southern Utah, two teams ranked in the 100s in rushing offense in Vanderbilt (104th) and Arkansas State (106th) and another in the 80s in Northwestern (82nd).
Fresno State running backs Ronnie Rivers and Josh Hokit the past two games have combined for just 141 rushing yards on 38 carries, 3.7 yards per play.
Bulldogs’ Thomas could be in action spot
Fresno State defensive end Nikko Thomas, who was slowed by a back injury in fall camp, made his debut last week in the loss at Air Force.
It was a tough matchup – the Falcons, as a run first, second and often third team, don’t give an edge rusher much opportunity to make plays. Air Force attempted only three passes in its 43-24 win.
But defensive coordinator Bert Watts said that Thomas could make more of an impact against UNLV, which has had trouble protecting the passer and is ranked last in the Mountain West in sacks allowed with 18.0 or 3.0 per game.
“He’s bendy, great get-off, he can rush the passer,” Watts said. “A big reason that we recruited him is his ability to get after the quarterback. We’re excited to see him get out there in a situation he’s going to get some of those opportunities.”