Fresno State (2-6, 1-4 Mountain West) vs. Nevada (4-4, 2-2)
▪ Thursday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,041)
▪ TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 33, DirecTV 209, Dish 144, AT&T U-Verse 606)
▪ Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
▪ Kickoff forecast: 54 degrees, partly cloudy
Fresno State’s three keys to victory
1. Takeaways. Fresno State is 3-0 against Nevada under head coach Tim DeRuyter and turnovers have played a big part in every one of those games. The Bulldogs have forced nine turnovers and turned them into 48 points, but they need to be more aggressive going after the football than they have been to this point of the current season to get that done. At 2-6, Fresno State can’t count on the other guys making more mistakes than it does.
2. Set up third and long. To get the Wolf Pack off schedule and off the field on third down, the Bulldogs will have to be more consistent defending the run, particularly on first down. That has been a problem and it could be again – Fresno State has allowed 5 yards on 179 first-down rushing plays while Nevada is averaging 5.68 yards on 170 first-down rushing plays, third best in the MW.
3. Get QB into run game. Fresno State is averaging 19.1 points per game against FBS opponents, which ranks 11th in the MW and 113th in the nation. The high-game in there is a 31-point effort in a victory over UNLV, when Kilton Anderson rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs need to try something to get the offense going, and getting the quarterback more involved in the run game wouldn’t hurt.
– Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee
Fresno State player spotlight: James Bailey
Hometown/high school: Austin, Texas/Lake Travis
Last game: Made second start against Air Force and finished with six tackles. Bailey became the sixth true freshman to start under head coach Tim DeRuyter when he got his first call against UNLV. For the season, Bailey has 36 tackles (with 13 coming in the two starts). He has two tackles for losses.
Why this game is important for Bailey: He’s showing he can be a player of the future, but needs to prove to coaches that he is one they can rely on through the final four games of this season.
He said it: “I expected to play more nickle than I thought, but I got fitted in because some guys went down and they threw me in the mix. I love it and I just come out practicing every day with everyone. It’s good experience and I hope it will help me next year, now that I got that experience and can help the team. We honestly have to have good communication all-around and good eyes. Everyone has to communicate as much as we can. If one guy is off, it’s going to mess up the whole entire game, so we’ll have to be on the same page.”
– Anthony Galaviz, The Fresno Bee
Tailgating: Bulldogs pregame news and notes
Nevada has had a lot of success with its Pistol offense, whether it was Colin Kaepernick or Cody Fajardo making the thing go. This season, it is junior Tyler Stewart, who has completed 57.6 percent of his passes (132 of 229) for 1,402 yards and 11 touchdowns, rushed for 271 yards and three touchdowns and bears enough resemblance to his predecessors to give the Bulldogs pause.
“They’re doing a lot of the same things,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “He looks like a young Fajardo, that’s what he looks like to me. Maybe not quite as developed, but he has the same ability to run away from you. He looks like he’s a pretty heady kid. He knows how to read the play the right way. He knows how to control the offense. They’ve started to let him do more the past couple of weeks, so obviously he’s growing into it more. They’re very similar.”
That may or may not bode well for the Bulldogs. Fresno State is 3-0 in its matchups with Nevada since installing a 3-4 under head coach Tim DeRuyter and Toth, but obviously has struggled in some critical areas on that side of the football this season. The Bulldogs rank 11th of 12 in the Mountain West Conference in rushing defense and total defense and last in scoring defense.
Whatever schematic edges they might hold against a particular play can go away in an instant with a blown assignment or a missed tackle.
“You have to believe they’re going to have plenty of time to prepare for us and I’m sure they have a real clean idea of what we think we’re going to be, so I’m sure maybe more so this week they’ll try to let him get them into the right play. It’s really execution, though,” Toth said.
“It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. We have to out-physical them and out-execute them. They’re going to have something cute, they’ll have something different. They’ll have something schemed up just for our defense, but we just have to execute. It sounds like coach-speak but that’s really the deal.”
Blood sport – Fresno State nose guard Nate Madsen, who did not play in the loss at Air Force because of a lower leg injury, made it through the week of practice and will go against the Wolf Pack.
His thoughts on the matchup with an offensive line that has three juniors and two sophomores in the starting lineup, only one going more than 300 pounds: “Their O-line is scrappy. They fight,” he said. “They’re really physical, so it’s going to be a bloody game up front, really. Coach Toth talks about that every week – it’s going to be a physical game and we have to out-physical them.”
SpyGate – In the Pac-12, stealing signals became a tepid topic this week with Arizona State a focal point for a few opposing coaches. “Do we steal signals? Yeah, we do. Do people steal our signals? Yeah (they) do,” Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. “Do you see our signs and all the things we do – it’s our responsibility to make sure our signals are safe. By rule you can’t video somebody else’s signals. You can’t record their audio, right? That’s it. There’s nothing illegal about that.”
DeRuyter agreed in that it is their responsibility to safeguard the signals coming off their sideline and the Bulldogs have measures in place to try to do that, using multiple signalers and dummy signalers. “It’s up to you to disguise signals or to have multiple signalers to make it difficult for your opponent,” he said.
Turn that around, and DeRuyter laughed and made like he was testifying in front of Congress. “Are you authorized to know the answer to that?” he joked. “We can neither confirm nor deny ...”
Bad memories – When the Bulldogs went to Reno last season and knocked off Nevada 40-20, the Wolf Pack in about four hours went from having the inside track to a West Division title and spot in the Mountain West Conference Championship game to just about out of contention.
Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada were tied atop the division with 3-3 records, and the Wolf Pack already had beaten the Aztecs as well as Hawaii and San Jose State, which were 2-4 at that point. If they had beaten the Bulldogs, they would have held head-to-head tie-breakers against every other team that could finish in a tie for first place in the division.
Didn’t happen, setting up a game Thursday that carries a little extra for the road team.
That loss stings. “It still bothers me,” coach Brian Polian was quoted in the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I’m not going to speak for the players, but it bothers me.”
Et cetera – Bulldogs’ safety DeShawn Potts, who has been out with a lower leg injury, took some team reps in practice Tuesday and could see some time as well.
▪ Nevada comes in 4-4 and, before its bye week, off a victory over Hawaii, which, interestingly, has them set up for failure if their track record this season means anything. The Wolf Pack has not yet won back-to-back games, even though they have been a betting favorite following their past two victories. Losing at Arizona after beating UC Davis is one thing, but Nevada lost to UNLV the week after a road win at Buffalo and loss at Wyoming the week after beating New Mexico. The Rebels were 1-3 when they played Nevada, the victory coming against FCS Idaho State. The Cowboys were 0-6 when they played Nevada.
▪ The Wolf Pack defense has allowed only one touchdown in the second half of the past four games and a total of 13 points. Fresno State has allowed more than 13 second-half points in its past seven games with a high of 38 at Ole Miss and a low of 14 at San Diego State and against UNLV.
▪ Nevada is the only team in the FBS that has two running backs averaging more than 84 yards per game – sophomore James Butler is ranked 43rd with 94.5 yards and senior Don Jackson is 58th at 84.3.
▪ Fresno State running back Marteze Waller enters the game 152 yards shy of becoming the fifth 3,000-yard rusher in school history. Waller is three rushing touchdowns shy of joining the career top 10 – Aaron Carver (1989-90) and Kelly Skipper (1985-88) are tied for 10th with 26.
– Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee