Fresno State (1-5, 0-3 Mountain West) vs. UNLV (2-4, 1-1)
▪ Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
▪ TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 33, DirecTV 209, Dish 144, AT&T U-Verse 606)
▪ Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
▪ Kickoff forecast: 80 degrees, clear
Fresno State’s three keys to victory
1 Quarterback play. Fresno State has been plagued by the inconsistency at the position, and there is a lot riding on redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson. But the Bulldogs have to find ways to move the sticks, which they haven’t been doing. They are averaging only 9.7 first downs per game in conference play, and 20 of their past 29 possessions have lasted three plays or fewer.
2 Slow the Rebels’ run game. Fresno State has allowed its past five opponents to rush for at least 200 yards, something it hasn’t done since 2009, when it allowed an average of, wow, 283.9 yards on the ground over its last seven games. If the Bulldogs can put UNLV into some tough down-and-distance situations, they might be able to force the Rebels’ young quarterback into some mistakes.
3 Match the physicality. UNLV and San Jose State went at it into overtime last week, which can’t bode well for Fresno State. The Spartans did a thorough job of beating up the Bulldogs on Sept. 26 in a 49-23 victory, and the home team can’t let that keep happening. The Bulldogs need to do a better job of sustaining and getting off blocks, of finishing tackles and finishing plays.
– Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee
Fresno State player spotlight: Wide receiver Jamire Jordan
Year: Redshirt freshman
Hometown/high school: Lancaster/Highland
Last week: Picked up his fifth overall touchdown last week, via a 21-yard pass from Kilton Anderson in the first quarter of eventual loss to Utah State. This season, Jordan has four TD receptions and has run for a score. He leads the Bulldogs in receptions (21), receiving yards (253), receiving touchdowns and scoring. Those four TD catches also are tied for second in the Mountain West with Devonte Boyd of UNLV and Rashard Higgins of Colorado State. Thomas Sperbeck of Boise State has five.
Why this game is important for Jordan: Not just for him, but for the rest of the receiving corps, who need to improve their rapport with Anderson as he makes his second career start after taking over for redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee. Jordan showed a glimpse of that last week when he had five receptions (though all in the first half). He finished the game with 44 receiving yards.
He said it: “Kilton has to step into that (leadership) role. Zack has been one of the older guys (offensively), because the majority of the receivers, we’re all new. Zack has just been leading and telling us what to do in certain reads. He’s helped me a lot because this is my first year in the offense and I had a lot of questions in fall camp, and he helped me. We practice with those guys every day. It’s not difficult for us because we know what they all can do. We’ve just got to get used to every quarterback.”
– Anthony Galaviz, The Fresno Bee
Tailgating: Bulldogs pregame news and notes
The last time Fresno State played a run-heavy team, the Bulldogs gave up two second-half touchdown passes off play-action fakes in a 21-7 loss at San Diego State. A secondary that is looking for a bounce back game after giving up 281 passing yards including six explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards in a 56-14 loss to Utah State could face some of the same challenges against UNLV.
“It’s all about our eye discipline or lack thereof on those plays (at San Diego State),” defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson said. “Sometimes you have to go through some tough times to learn some lessons and that’s what happened. We just have to do a better job of being disciplined with our eyes, being disciplined with our responsibilities within the framework of the defense.”
The Rebels are attempting only 25.5 pass plays per game, compared to 45.3 rushing plays. But they have a few dynamic receivers that can get down the field led by sophomore Devonte Boyd, who has caught 19 passes for 331 yards (17.4 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs played the pass well at San Diego State with the exception of the two touchdowns – a 33-yarder from Maxwell Smith to Rashaad Penny and a 44-yard pass from Smith to Eric Judge. The Aztecs hit only 5 of 12 passes in that game for 104 yards.
They will have to be better against the Rebels, who will be starting sophomore quarterback Kurt Palandech, who has hit only 51.5 percent (35 of 68) of his throws for 336 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 103.56.
“I thought we had been making strides the last couple of weeks, but you can’t let guys run behind you and bust coverage,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We had too many of those last week and we have to get that fixed. We just have to go back to playing fundamental football.”
Prepared for the heat – The Bulldogs are expecting UNLV to throw a lot of looks and pressures at redshirt freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson, who will be making his second career start.
If he can get his protection set correctly, there could be plays to be made down the field against a defense that has had an interesting season against the pass. UNLV is ranked last in the conference in passing defense, allowing 243.3 yards per game. But it also is second in the conference with 10 interceptions, third in yards per pass attempt allowed at 6.1 yards and opponent passing efficiency rating at 107.52, and fourth in opponent completion percentage at 53.8 percent.
“I feel really confident about it,” Anderson said. “They’re not going to bring anything that we haven’t seen out here. Our scouts are giving us great looks, so I’m pretty confident.
“I just have to look at the secondary, get the protection slid the right way and play fast and physical. That’s what we’re going to have to do to get it done.”
How low can it go? – Fresno State had only 30,540 for its homecoming game last week against Utah State, and it is expecting a smaller crowd for the Friday night matchup against the Rebels.
There have been some puzzling attendance figures at Bulldog Stadium the past few years – 33,098 attended the opener against Rutgers in 2013 when Derek Carr was starting his senior year; 36,240 were there when the Bulldogs beat Air Force in 2012 to clinch a share of their first conference title in 14 years; and 31,362 attended the first Mountain West Conference championship game when the Bulldogs beat Utah State in 2013.
But since 2000 it has had only nine crowds of less than 30,000, the smallest 25,965 for a 23-20 victory over Idaho on Nov. 27, 2010, in an 8-5 season.
First downers – With its inexperienced and inconsistent quarterback play, Fresno State has struggled to keep the chains moving on third downs, converting only 28.9 percent (20 of 69) against FBS opponents. A part of that has been the distance to gain for a first down – when the Bulldogs made just 3 of 14 last week in a loss to Utah State, the average was 7.4 yards, when they hit on 5 of 13 at San Jose State, it was 6.9 yards.
“We’re going to have to do a better job of running the football so we can stay out of third and long,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “That’s just what we have to do.”
The Bulldogs are averaging 3.3 yards on 108 first-down rushing plays with eight going for 10 or more yards. But they might have a chance against the Rebels, who have had some trouble against the run and are allowing 5.9 yards on 110 first-down rushing plays, including 20 of 10 or more yards.
Et cetera – UNLV has not won a game at Fresno State since 1984, when it beat Toledo in the California Bowl with a team that included quarterback Randall Cunningham and freshman running back Elbert “Ickey” Woods, the Edison High grad.
▪ The Bulldogs have played 29 first-year players this season including four true freshmen and 13 redshirt freshmen. UNLV isn’t far behind – the Rebels have played nine true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen.
▪ Fresno State tight end Chad Olsen has just one reception over the past three games, that coming last week in the loss to Utah State for a gain of three yards. Last season as a freshman against UNLV, he caught four passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns. At the time, all three were career highs. Later that season he had four receptions for 62 yards in a victory over San Jose State.
▪ UNLV has a scoring differential of plus-1.5, having scored an average of 28.3 points per game while allowing 26.8. If that holds, it will mark the first time since 2001 that the Rebels have ended a season scoring more points than it allowed. Even in 2013, when going 7-6 and playing North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl they were a minus-1.9.
▪ Bulldogs senior Marteze Waller is inching closer to the top 5 on the career rushing yards list. He goes into Friday just 26 yards shy of Dwayne Wright, who rushed for 2,683 yards on 501 plays from 2003-06. Waller has 2,657 on 512 plays. The leader is Robbie Rouse, who gained 4,647 yards on 898 plays from 2009-12.
– Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee