The Fresno State football team will return to Bulldog Stadium Saturday after about a month-long absence that included two road trips followed by a bye.
The Bulldogs (3-5, 2-2 Mountain West) will be battling first-year head coach Craig Bohl and the fifth-place Wyoming Cowboys (3-5, 1-3 MW) in a conference showdown.
“For our Salute to Services game this week we have Wyoming coming in,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “They have an outstanding coaching staff with Coach Bohl. They had an outstanding record at North Dakota State that speaks for itself. So we know we have a physical team coming in here. They’re very sound, they play extremely hard, and we’re expecting a great contest.”
One of the Bulldogs’ most glaring challenges this Saturday will be matching Wyoming’s physicality and limiting their run game. In order to do this, the defense must be more imposing than the past two games, in which it gave up an average of 33.5 points in each.
“We’re not playing well enough and it’s showing,” senior outside linebacker Donovan Lewis said. “We have to make more plays. All year, we’ve been in position to make plays. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.
“Wyoming wants to run the ball. They also want to be physical, so as long as we stop the run, things should go in our favor.”
Fresno State will also look to regain their confidence in the back end after up-and-down performances throughout the season. Junior defensive back Charles Washington wants to see his defense cause more turnovers, something that they haven’t had enough of lately with just two in the recent contests against UNLV and Boise State.
“We could be better to say the least,” Washington said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job week in and week out. As far as preparing we’re not where we want to be with turnovers. That speaks for itself, so we have to force more turnovers and capitalize on that.”
“Our coaches have done a good job of preparing us for what we’ll see,” he said. “We feel like we’re in a good position to make plays and the schemes are there. Now its up to us to go out there an make the plays on Saturday.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Zack Greenlee will be making his first career start Saturday. Since the beginning of last week, he’s been taking all the reps with the first team.
With a good supporting cast around him including the likes of standout running back Marteze Waller and wide receiver Josh Harper, Greenlee will be the guy the Bulldogs will turn to lead the offense heading forward.
Harper said he anticipates the offense will be well-prepared for what the Cowboys will throw at them, but execution is what the game will ultimately come down to.
“We have to execute,” Harper said. “We just have to do what we do. They’re going to run Cover 2, Cover 3 and a little bit of man defense but we have plays for all those types of coverages. We just have to execute when the play is called.”
Bulldogs offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said his unit must establish its identity early on by playing physically and establish a run game, an area that they’ve had success in this season.
Waller leads a rushing attack that averages 19.1 yards per game. He will be the one the Bulldogs will turn to for consistency in the running game and perhaps help alleviate pressure off of first-time starter Greenlee.
“They play hard, they have a really good front seven, and they’re well-coached in the back end,” Schramm said. “They’re very sound, and they’re going make us earn it, keep it in front of us and not give up the big play. We have our work cut out for us.
“We have to find a way to run the football and we have to take care of the ball. Those are always our goals going into games, so we have to find a way to make sure that we do those two things.”
Recent losses puts ‘Dogs in hole
Back-to-back conference losses to UNLV and Boise State have dropped the Bulldogs from first place in the West Division to a tie for third.
The ‘Dogs are in a situation where they will likely have to win out if they wish to have a shot at a third-consecutive conference title.
Veterans, like Washington, said they will not let the two conference losses define the rest of their season. They look to see past that and hope they can turn things around — beginning with the task at hand this weekend.
“Close games like those that you know you should’ve won are the ones that hurt the most,” Washington said. “It is not like our team to not come through, especially with the work that we put in leading up to this point. I expected a better outcome in the previous two games, but the season isn’t over, and we still have an opportunity in front of us to make a statement.
“I don’t have any doubts in us winning out. Everything is up on us so if we execute our techniques and assignments correctly then I have no doubts. I have all the faith in the world that we’ll go out and win the next four games starting with this one this weekend.”
Harper said they must take things one game at a time and not underestimate any opponent in order to get to the level where they want to be.
“We can’t take anybody lightly,” he said. “We’re below .500 and we’re trying to get over that. We’re going to fight to get a bowl game and fight to stay alive in the Mountain West. We are all aware that we have to win out.”
Saturday’s matchup is set to begin at 7:45 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
In addition with Fresno State honoring veterans with the Salute to Services promotion, it will also be holding its third annual Family Football Food Drive, in which families of the coaches will be collecting non-perishable food items and donations at all Bulldog Stadium entrances one hour prior to the game. All proceedings from the food drive will go to the Community Food Bank.