Scoring 21 points in Saturday’s 52-36 win against Nevada, the ’Dogs defense, including defensive backs Derron Smith (13), Phillip Thomas (16) and L.J. Jones (6), was relentless in stopping the Wolf Pack’s offense. Fresno State also added four takeaways in the game.
Battling the weather elements, Fresno State brought its potent offense and punishing defense to Reno and beat Nevada 52-36 Saturday night.
Trading touchdown scores in the first half, the ’Dogs rode the shoulders of running back Robbie Rouse to hand the Wolf Pack its third straight loss.
“The guy’s a stud. We’ve been saying that all year long. He’s our franchise. He’s the heart and soul of our team. You can’t say enough superlatives about the guy,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
The Bulldogs started off slow as they adjusted to the weather conditions (30 degrees at kickoff), but got their offense going early in the first quarter. Quarterback Derek Carr passed to wide receiver Davante Adams for a 36-yard touchdown.
However, Nevada was able to answer immediately on its second drive of the game. The Wolf Pack scored on a 3-yard rushing touchdown by running back Stephfon Jefferson, a Visalia native.
After the Bulldogs attempted a fourth-down conversion on their ensuing possession and failed, Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo became the first victim of the ’Dogs’ takeaway binge. On third down and 9, Fajardo threw the ball, which was promptly picked off by safety Derron Smith, who ran it back for a touchdown.
“It felt great to get the first pick-six, but I’m still trying to catch Phillip (Thomas),” Smith said. “It was good just to help the team out and try to be a spark plug and get our team going.”
“I was happy for him, man, especially since he scored and it was his first pick-six of his career. I was just excited for him,” safety Thomas added.
This score put Fresno State ahead of the Wolf Pack at the beginning of the second quarter, which the ’Dogs proceeded to quickly lose. After jumping ahead 14-7, Nevada started to gain momentum by getting two fast scores.
Jefferson was again in the scoring mix as he dashed for 42 yards on first and 10 from the Fresno State 44-yard line. He immediately scored on the ensuing play by scampering for 2 yards into the end zone.
Nevada was able to strike again, this time on special teams. The Wolf Pack, on fourth down with less than four minutes in the first half, punted the ball. Nevada linebacker Jonathan McNeal came up with a big hit as he smashed into punt returner Rashad Evans, who fumbled the ball. Wolf Pack linebacker Jordan Dobrich jumped on the ball and recovered it at the ’Dogs 19-yard line.
Nevada was then able to score quickly on another rushing play by Jefferson for seven yards. This sequence put the Wolf Pack up 21-14 and was a significant momentum changer late in the first half.
Yet, Fresno State showed grit and determination as the ’Dogs fired back with a score of their own. Directly following Nevada’s drive, Carr was able to guide Fresno State’s offense and he connected with tight end Marcel Jensen for a 32-yard passing score. This was Carr’s second passing touchdown of the game.
“I’m just really proud that our guys don’t get down on each other. We weren’t fitting things well together, but we found ways to get takeaways,” DeRuyter said.
Both teams failed to gain points at the end of the second quarter and the score stood 21-21 at halftime.
Nevada started off the second half with the ball and promptly helped the Bulldogs jump ahead. On the Wolf Pack’s first possession, Fajardo was sacked by linebacker Donavon Lewis and fumbled the ball. Nose guard Tyeler Davison recovered and ran it into the end zone.
Nevada’s next possession again resulted in a Wolf Pack turnover. Fajardo was the culprit a second time as he went to pass on third down and was intercepted by Thomas. ’Dogs kicker Quentin Bresheares then converted a field goal off of Nevada’s turnover.
On their second drive of the second half, the Wolf Pack, from its own 25-yard line, handed the ball off to Jefferson. He was run into by linebacker Travis Brown, who tackled Jefferson and forced a fumble. Brown then recovered the ball and sprinted to the end zone for a second straight score by Fresno State.
This marked three straight times for the Bulldogs in when they scored either defensively or immediately on their ensuing offensive drive and thus brought the score to 38-21.
“When you’re doing that (scoring on defense), you’re bound to win by scoring 21 points. But it’s really exciting and that’s what we’re suppose to do is get the ball and score. We want to score just like the offense does,” Thomas said.
“Turnovers are a big deal in the win-loss column,” Smith added. “It’s a full defensive effort when we get turnovers.”
Rouse, who was active in the first half by rushing for 87 yards on 17 carries, came alive toward the end of the third quarter. After another Nevada drive resulted in a Wolf Pack punt, Fresno State hurriedly drove down the field.
After Carr passed to Adams for a 25-yard reception, setting up a first down and goal, Rouse completed an acrobatic flip over a mass of players for a touchdown – Rouse’s first of the game.
This play appeared to energize Rouse as he went on a rushing frenzy and torched Nevada’s defense for 177 yards in the second half and two touchdowns.
Rouse’s second rushing touchdown put an exclamation point on the game and sealed the Bulldogs’ win in Reno. After the Wolf Pack scored on a passing touchdown from Fajardo to receiver Nick Hale, Fresno State put the game away for good.
“I just do whatever I can to get the team victories,” Rouse said.
On the ’Dogs’ first drive of the fourth quarter, Rouse pummeled Nevada’s defense on his way to a 39-yard rushing touchdown, putting the Bulldogs up by a commanding 24-point lead.
Nevada cut into the ’Dogs’ lead on its next possession with a 1-yard rushing touchdown but was unable to close the scoring gap. The game ended in a lopsided victory for Fresno State.
Rouse was able to rush for a total of 261 yards – third most in school history – on 36 carries and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ defense was also stellar as they collected three touchdowns off of turnovers en route to embarrassing Nevada in the second half at home.
“Obviously, the turnovers were a huge difference in the ball game today and we got a group that has fun playing together,” DeRuyter said.
With the win against the Wolf Pack, the Bulldogs were able to secure their first win against Nevada in four years.
With a bye next week, Fresno State will look to get much needed rest as it inches closer to winning at least a share of the Mountain West Conference championship.
The ’Dogs return to Bulldog Stadium on Nov. 24 for their final game of the season against conference opponent Air Force.
“I think bye weeks are always useful, especially coming out of this game. Nevada is definitely a tough, physical team,” Rouse said. “But we got to work hard during the bye week, watching film and get a head start on Air Force. We got to do whatever we can to win the game.”
DeRuyter added, “It’s nice that we’ll get two weeks to get ready for Air Force. Their offense is very different than most teams we play. But wherever the bye week is, we’ll take it.”