With two games left in the season, Fresno State will look to remain on top in the Mountain West Conference.
Although the possibility of winning the conference is becoming very real, the ’Dogs will continue to focus their energy and attention on their next opponent, Nevada.
“We know now we’re playing an excellent team in Nevada, a team that was picked to finish at the top of the conference,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Nose guard Tyeler Davison said, “It’s a huge game for us. But every week is a huge game.”
Coming into this week, the Wolf Pack sit fifth in the conference. But, this ranking doesn’t tell the whole tale of Nevada’s season so far. After suffering losses to San Diego State and Air Force, the Wolf Pack went from first to fifth in the span of two weeks.
These two losses to conference opponents have definitely hurt Nevada’s chances to win the Mountain West. However, it comes into the game against the Bulldogs seeking to get back on track and win out.
Under head coach Chris Ault, Nevada is ranked in the top 50 in the NCAA for both passing yards and rushing yards. The Wolf Pack also ranks in the top 25 nationally for points scored in a game.
Nevada’s running game is exceptionally strong as the Wolf Pack’s offense works out of the Pistol formation. Junior running back Stefphon Jefferson is Nevada’s primary offensive weapon as he leads the Wolf Pack with 1,397 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
“Our guys know about him (Jefferson) and they know that they got to play well and get multiple players to the football,” DeRuyter said.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo also contributes to Nevada’s running game with 731 yards and 10 touchdowns. This well-balanced offense will certainly test the Bulldogs defense Saturday.
“Offensively, they’re really tough. I believe they’re averaging about 260 yards of passing, 260 rushing. So that balance we’ll try to defend. Our hands are going to be full,” DeRuyter said.
Although the Wolf Pack’s offense could pose a problem for Fresno State, DeRuyter and the ’Dogs are unfazed. They bring a very potent offense to the matchup in Reno. The Bulldogs also bring a rugged and physical defense, which forces opposing offenses to commit mistakes.
On offense, the Bulldogs bring the spread attack, led by quarterback Derek Carr, who leads all players in statistics at the quarterback position in the Mountain West. Carr also leads the nation in passing yards (3,070) and is tied for second in touchdown passes (30).
“He’s awesome to coach. He’s competitive, probably one of the most competitive guys on the team,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “He sees things on the field that sometimes I don’t see. And I think we work great together. We both know that at the end of the day the goal is to win.”
Fresno State boasts a very explosive running game, led by running back Robbie Rouse. In the game against Hawaii, Rouse was able to attain 102 yards on 13 carries, which put him over 1,000 for the season.
The transformation of the offense has been remarkable. What is more amazing is that this transformation has taken less than one season.
“We’re good. We’re efficient. But it’s always a work in progress. But, I think that the offense is coming along great,” Schramm said.
Defensively, the transformation appears to be even more surprising. Last year, the ’Dogs finished the season with only nine takeaways. This year, Fresno State sits at 26 with two games remaining.
DeRuyter, at the beginning of the season, speculated that if the team could get to 20, the Bulldogs could have a legitimate shot at winning a conference championship.
“We talk about being physical – having a purpose when you get there. Playing with great population, where you have fanatical effort to the ball,” DeRuyter said.
The two key players that have driven Fresno State’s defense this season are safeties Phillip Thomas and Derron Smith. While Smith brings speed and the ability to hustle to the ball, Thomas brings leadership and veteran presence in addition to being a physical player.
“He shows us all how to work hard and go out there and be a good player,” Davison said.
The defensive line also adds another dimension to Fresno State’s overall game. The two premier players on the line for the ’Dogs are nose guards Davison and Andy Jennings.
Davison leads the team in quarterback hurries with seven and is important to the defense as he provides consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Jennings is an all-around defensive force. In nine games, Jennings has collected 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
“He’s a fast, explosive player. A lot of things he can do at end, he does at nose. So he gives the D-line that versatility,” Davison said.
If the Bulldogs continue to play to their strengths, they should come out of Nevada with a victory. Fresno State knows it will be difficult, but good, championship quality teams know how to win, both at home and on the road.
The prospect of winning the Mountain West is real this week. It all comes down to where the Bulldogs’ focus lies. Against a team that in recent seasons has had its number, Fresno State will look to conquer Nevada and ascend the top of the conference in its first season.
“Going into this week, we know our hands are going to be full going up to Reno. We haven’t won there in a while,” DeRuyter said. “If you want to win a league championship, you’ve got to win on the road.”