Fresno State Football

Mountain West notes: Fresno State expects to have linebacker Tobenna Okeke back for Air Force

Tobenna Okeke
Tobenna Okeke Fresno State Athletics

By the end of the Fresno State Bulldogs’ victory over UNLV, they were getting very short of healthy bodies on the defensive side of the football – particularly at safety.

So much so that there were conversations between the coaches in the box and the coaches on the sideline about how they would go about finishing the game if they were to suffer another injury.

But the Bulldogs (2-5, 1-3 Mountain West) appear to have skirted any serious issues there with everyone in the position group expected to be in practice this week, and as a bonus they are expecting to have sophomore outside linebacker Tobenna Okeke back on the field when they play at Air Force (3-3, 2-1).

And that, no doubt, will help against the Falcons’ option offense.

Okeke, who suffered a knee injury in a Sept. 26 loss at San Jose State, was expected to be sidelined for as many as six weeks but will be in practice this week.

“It’s very positive,” DeRuyter said. “He has been doing a great job rehabbing. Our medical staff has done a nice job. And he’s anxious. We knew early on it may not have been as bad as we thought. He was able to run straight ahead, but to be able to load up and go side to side is the big test. We’ll see how he is in practice this week. We’ll test him, and if he’s ready to go he’ll go.”

Okeke, who started three of the first four games, didn’t have much doubt there.

“It’s the treatment, going to rehab every day, doing what needed to be done, doing what they told me to do,” said Okeke, who has been in on nine tackles in four games, including 2.5 tackles for loss. “A lot of prayers went into it, too. All that went into me being back as soon as I can.”

Air Force will challenge the Bulldogs’ discipline with an option-based offense that has grown more multiple the past two seasons. The Falcons are leading the Mountain West Conference in rushing offense, averaging 5.3 yards per play and 312.2 yards per game.

But, while leading the nation with 58.8 rushing plays per game, they also have made some plays in the passing game, averaging a conference-best 9.0 yards per attempt. Air Force has completed only 33 passes this season, but 14 of them have gone for 20 or more yards. By comparison, Fresno State has hit 114 passes and only 13 have gone for 20 or more yards.

“They put a lot of stress on your fronts to be disciplined,” DeRuyter said. “They’re a very physical offense. They’re going to cut block you and block you from different angles, and each week they have a different formations adjustment that you have to adjust to, so to have a veteran guy like him, it would be a big help to have him back.”

Next game: at Air Force, 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN3)

Notable: After racking up 410 yards of offense against the Rebels, Fresno State is averaging only 294.7 yards per game and is one of only five teams in the nation averaging less than 300.

Robert Kuwada,

The Fresno Bee

West Division

Hawaii (2-5, 0-3) – The Rainbow Warriors are the only Mountain West team without a league victory after New Mexico rallied last week to send Hawaii to a fourth straight loss.

The Warriors played without injured quarterback Max Wittek, running back Mel Davis, receiver Quinton Pedroza, left guard Elijah Tupai, linebackers Benetton Fonua and Jeremy Castro, and nickelback Gaetano DeMattei. Running back Paul Harris, nose tackle Kory Rasmussen and free safety Marrell Jackson also exited with injuries. There were 34 players on the injury report Monday.

Next game: at Nevada, 1 p.m. Saturday (Mountain West Digital Network)

Notable: To both protect quarterback Ikaika Woolsey and boost the running attack, the Warriors against the Lobos were in a double-tight-end formation 16 times. Hawaii also unveiled a jumbo package in which 285-pound guard Eperone Moananu was aligned as a fullback.

Stephen Tsai,

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Nevada (3-4, 1-2) – The Wolf Pack didn’t only lose on the field to winless Wyoming on Saturday. It also lost the sidelines, according to coach Brian Polian.

“This is the first time that I felt like the fact we only have 12 or 13 seniors really showed up,” Polian said. “There was no leadership. They were not vocal enough.”

Nevada’s 12 seniors are the ninth-fewest in the FBS (Wyoming has only eight, the second fewest in the nation). The Wolf Pack has seven seniors who start, including six of the front seven defensively. Polian said it is up to the seniors to lead the team as it looks to rebound.

Next game: vs. Hawaii, 1 p.m. Saturday (Mountain West Digital Network)

Notable: Nevada has not scored in the first quarter of its three MW games and hasn’t scored on its opening drive since the season opener against UC Davis.

Chris Murray,

Reno Gazette-Journal

San Diego State (4-3, 3-0) – With the 30-7 victory at San Jose State on Saturday night, the Aztecs fashioned their first 3-0 start in conference in 13 years and took a two-game lead in the West Division’s loss column over the Spartans (2-2), Nevada (1-2) and UNLV (1-2). And that sets up one of the most meaningful home games in recent years on Friday at Qualcomm Stadium against Utah State.

The Aggies (3-0) are the only other undefeated team in the MW, fresh off their stunning, 52-26 win on Friday in which they forced eight turnovers from No. 21 Boise State.

There are five MW games still to be played and both teams hold their division-title destinies in their hands, though the Aztecs are playing with a more comfortable cushion. Beyond Utah State, San Diego State’s four remaining MW opponents are all 1-2 in conference, and UNLV and San Jose State still have Boise State to play. Nevada has the most realistic chance of catching the Aztecs, but even that is remote because San Diego State would have to lose a game and the Wolf Pack would have to win four of their last five, including at San Diego State on Nov. 28.

Up next: vs. Utah State, 7:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN2)

Notable: This will be the first time San Diego State has played another undefeated conference team with a 3-0 record or better since a 1975 showdown with San Jose in the PCAA.

Tod Leonard,

San Diego Union-Tribune

San Jose State (3-4, 2-2) – For the third time this season, the Spartans can return to the .500 plateau with a victory. The Spartans did it twice so far with victories over Fresno State (49-23) on Sept. 26 and at UNLV (33-27, OT) on Oct. 10.

A victory also would give San Jose State its fourth win of the season, one more than in 2013 when the team finished with a 3-9 overall record.

Next game: vs. New Mexico, 4 p.m. Saturday

Notable: The Spartans lead the series with the Lobos 11-4-1. They are meeting for the first time since San Jose State defeated New Mexico 20-12 in the inaugural New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 23, 2006.

Bee news services

UNLV (2-5, 1-2) – The Rebels have a bye this week and they need the extra time to recover from a second tough loss in a row, blowing a 14-point lead at Fresno State after losing a lead late at San Jose State the week before and losing in overtime.

This could have been a special season under first-year coach Tony Sanchez had UNLV won both games. The Rebels would have been in the running for the West Division title and in excellent position to make a bowl.

Now neither goal is realistic.

“For a long, long time in this program, we found a way to lose,” Sanchez said. “It’s been kind of the nature of who we are, and that’s got to change.”

Next game: vs. Boise State, Oct. 31

Notable: During one six-drive stretch in the second half against the Bulldogs, the Rebels went three-and-out five times.

Mark Anderson,

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Mountain Division

Air Force (3-3, 2-1) – The Falcons went into this season loaded with pass catchers and with a pass-first quarterback in Nate Romine. Then, tight end Garrett Griffin went down with a knee injury in warmups before the first game and Romine was lost for the season in Game 2.

Enter Karson Roberts, a run-first quarterback. Air Force tried making its way behind its two standout fullbacks – D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern. This has helped the Falcons to the nation’s fifth-best running attack at 312.2 yards per game, but the team is also just 1-3 in Roberts’ starts.

Now, it seems some more toggling is on the way. Johnson missed last week’s loss at Colorado State with an ankle injury and his status is in question for this week. Davern left the loss in Fort Collins with a knee injury and is also uncertain.

Injuries have also hit the defense hard, with the team now without both of its original middle linebackers (brothers Connor and Patrick Healy), an outside linebacker (Dexter Walker), a cornerback (Kalon Baker) and nose guard (David Harris).

Next game: vs. Fresno State, 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN3)

Notable: The Falcons lead the overall series with the Bulldogs 4-3.

Brent Briggeman,

The (Colorado Springs) Gazette

Boise State (5-2, 2-1) – The Broncos lost their national ranking and control of their destiny in the Mountain Division with a blowout loss Saturday at Utah State.

Boise State committed eight turnovers, including seven in the first half. The Broncos fell behind 45-10 at the break – their largest halftime deficit in 17 years – and lost 52-26.

“I guess when the kickoff happened, we just weren’t ready to play,” senior safety Darian Thompson said. “We did everything the same as we usually do, the locker room seemed fired up before the game, but when it started, they came out with more fire.”

Boise State has lost to both teams it has played that currently have winning records: BYU and Utah State.

Next game: vs. Wyoming, 7:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

Notable: Cornerback Donte Deayon, a senior starter, will miss about four weeks with a knee injury. True freshman Tyler Horton (Edison High) and junior college transfer Raymond Ford are competing to replace him.

Chadd Cripe,

(Boise) Idaho Statesman

Colorado State (3-4, 1-2) – Mike Bobo knew the first three MW games would be difficult for the Rams. Utah State, Boise State and Air Force – all 10-win teams a year ago – back to back to back.

The first two didn’t go so well, with the Rams losing 33-18 at Utah State and 41-10 at home to Boise State. They won the third, though, downing Air Force 38-23 to head into a bye this week with a badly needed shot of confidence.

Learning new offensive and defensive schemes under a new coaching staff turned out to be a lot harder than the Rams or their new coaches expected. From 10-3 a year ago under former coach Jim McElwain to 3-4 so far this season, it hasn’t been easy.

“We don’t have the best record this year, and we had a couple heartbreakers, so we needed the win, and we needed to dominate the game, and I think we did that,” senior receiver Joe Hansley said. “A win like this is huge for us.”

Next game: vs. San Diego State, Oct. 31

Notable: Quarterback Nick Stevens is No. 2 in the MW and tied for No. 23 nationally in touchdown passes with 13, one fewer than Wyoming’s Cameron Coffman.

Kelly Lyell,

Fort Collins Coloradoan

New Mexico (4-3, 2-1) – Last year at this time, Lobos fans – not all, but many – were clamoring for the New Mexico coaches to start redshirt freshman Lamar Jordan instead of junior Cole Gautsche, the incumbent starter.

Now, Jordan is the starter. But a growing segment of Lobo Nation has fallen in love with junior Austin Apodaca, who drove New Mexico 80 yards (all in the air) to the winning touchdown in last week’s 28-27 victory over Hawaii. The week before, in a 35-17 loss at Nevada, Apodaca had come off the bench and moved the offense.

It’s clear that Jordan is the better runner, Apodaca the better passer. Many Lobos fans, it appears, prefer seeing the ball in the air.

Coach Bob Davie’s tendency has been to pour cold water on those flames.

“Before we all get carried away with this new ‘Air DeBesse’ offense (that’s Bob DeBesse, the offensive coordinator), keep in mind that we're a running team,” Davie said.

Next game: vs. San Jose State, 4 p.m. Saturday

Notable: When Hawaii kicker Rigoberto Sanchez missed a 22-yard field goal that likely would have put the game away for the Rainbow Warriors in the fourth quarter, it was the first time an opposing kicker had missed a field goal against New Mexico this season. Earlier in the game, Sanchez had connected from 49 and 47 yards.

Rick Wright,

Albuquerque Journal

Utah State (4-2, 3-0) – Even coach Matt Wells admits his Aggies are “in the driver’s seat” in the Mountain Division race.

Utah State owns a one-game lead over Boise State, Air Force and New Mexico in the division race. It owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos. Both Air Force and New Mexico still have to play in Boise State.

The bottom line?

Utah State is probably positioned to win the Mountain Division even if it loses one of its final five league games.

The Aggies tied a school record by forcing eight turnovers in their lopsided win over Boise State. All came during a remarkable nine-possession stretch, when Utah State turned a 10-3 lead into a 45-10 halftime advantage that carried into the third quarter.

“That was a performance we’re all very, very proud of,” Wells said.

Next game: at San Diego State, 7:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN2)

Notable: Utah State has won 39 of its past 53 games, going back to the 2011 season. … Sophomore quarterback Kent Myers is 8-1 as a starter.

Steve Luhm,

Salt Lake Tribune

Wyoming (1-6, 1-2) – The Cowboys could be without their top wide receiver when they play at Boise State on Saturday.

Second-year coach Craig Bohl is “hopeful” to have junior Tanner Gentry for the game after Gentry suffered a sprained shoulder in the second half of Wyoming’s 28-21 win over Nevada. Gentry leads Wyoming with 37 catches for 678 yards and is tied for the team lead with four receiving touchdowns.

Next game: at Boise State, 7:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

Notable: The Cowboys get two defensive starters back this week in junior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha and sophomore cornerback Robert Priester. Both missed the Nevada game with concussions. But they lost a defensive starter when junior nose tackle Chase Appleby suffered what Bohl expects it to be a season-ending knee injury.

Robert Gagliardi,

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

This week’s games

FRIDAY

  • Utah State at San Diego State, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

  • Fresno State at Air Force, 11 a.m.
  • Hawaii at Nevada, 1 p.m.
  • New Mexico at San Jose State, 4 p.m.
  • Wyoming at Boise State, 7:15 p.m.
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