Powering through the pack: Fresno State beats Nevada

Fresno State receiver Josh Harper bursts through two Nevada defenders during the Bulldogs’ 41-23 win at Bulldog Stadium. Harper tallied 17 carries for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Photo by Roe Borunda/The Collegian

Fresno State receiver Josh Harper bursts through two Nevada defenders during the Bulldogs’ 41-23 win at Bulldog Stadium. Harper tallied 17 carries for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Photo by Roe Borunda/The Collegian

Fresno State receiver Josh Harper bursts through two Nevada defenders during the Bulldogs’ 41-23 win at Bulldog Stadium. Harper tallied 17 carries for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Photo by Roe Borunda/The Collegian

 

A sold-out Bulldog Stadium was blacked out Saturday night, as the Fresno State Bulldogs (8-0, 4-0 Mountain West Conference) collared the Nevada Wolf Pack (3-6, 2-4 MWC) 41-23.

Some 41,031 fans donned black shirts to accompany the new-look Bulldogs, who marched onto the field clad in black uniforms for the game.

“I have to hand it to the administration on the blackout and the Red Wave for showing up in black,” said Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter. “It just really created a great energy in the stadium and a great buzz for our program.”

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr completed 39 of 55 passes for 487 yards and three touchdowns. On his final throw of the game, Carr set a school record in passing yards with 10,821, breaking Kevin Sweeney’s 27-year-old record.

“It means heck of a whole lot to me,” Derek Carr said, “especially with big brother here to witness it. It’s something I told him, I wanted to go here and make sure our names are at the top of the record books.”

It was also a big game for Fresno State receiver Josh Harper. He finished the game with 17 catches for 253 yards and two scores.

“It’s the best game I’ve ever had,” Harper said.

On its first drive of the game, Nevada’s running back Kendall Brock finished an 81-yard drive with a 43-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead.

“We put our guys in a tough call,” DeRuyter said. “We called a run blitz, and they ran a power play. It was a good play against a good play, and we didn’t fit it very well.”

Fresno State wasted no time in reciprocating. On the first snap of the ensuing drive, Carr passed the ball to his left to receiver Isaiah Burse, who threw it back to Carr.

Carr then threw downfield to Harper, who got tripped up at the Nevada 18-yard line to finish the 57-yard trick play. Harper caught another pass — this time 13 yards — before Carr connected with Davante Adams for a 5-yard score.

The game remained tied for nearly 10 minutes, until Carr dove into the end zone for a touchdown.

“Honestly, I was trying to throw [the ball],” Carr said. “I didn’t want to have to do a flip or something and get yelled at. Once I pump-faked and the guy backed up, I was praying that I was fast enough to get to the corner.”

Defensively, the Bulldogs shut out the Wolf Pack in the second quarter. During Nevada’s first drive of the quarter, Fresno State safety Derron Smith, nursing an injured ankle, intercepted a Cody Fajardo pass attempt at midfield and was tackled just 3 yards shy of the end zone.

“I couldn’t really accelerate as much as I wanted to, so I was just trying to make moves out there,” Smith said. “[The ankle] was hurting a little bit out there, but just like last week, it’s a matter of pain and playing through it.”

After a penalty forced Fresno State to begin its drive at the 18-yard line, the Bulldogs were only able to get nine yards in three downs before a Carr incompletion at fourth and 1 turned the ball over. It was the third time in the game that DeRuyter decided to go for it on fourth down.

“We’re going to go for it on fourth down because I have a lot of confidence in our offense,” DeRuyter said. “Sometimes it’s based on field position. We have to execute, and it’s a gamble doing it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Later in the quarter, a Colin McGuire field goal increased the Fresno State lead to 17-7. With two minutes remaining in the first half, Carr completed a 17-yard scoring pass to Harper to send the Bulldogs into halftime with a 3-score lead.

For Nevada, the first-half offensive strategy was the opposite of Fresno State’s. Fajardo seldom threw the ball — going 3 of 7 for 23 yards — and, instead, relied on his running back Kendall Brock.

In the third quarter, Fajardo passed the ball more and connected with Brandon Wimberly and Hasaan Henderson for a total of 82 yards.

“We know that Nevada is a run-first offense,” Smith said. “One thing that surprised us was that [the Wolf Pack] didn’t do as many bullet passes to the outside. We saw that a lot on film, so we were really prepared for that.”

A Brent Zuzo field goal ended Fresno State’s 24-0 run and brought Nevada within two scores. That deficit would decrease when Fajardo completed a 13-yard scoring pass to Wimberly, but a missed field goal separated the two teams by 8 points.

But Fresno State sealed the victory in the final quarter. After Harper’s second score of the evening, the Wolf Pack only found the endzone once, a 32-yard touchdown reception by Henderson. The Bulldogs scored 10 unanswered points to end the game and continue their undefeated streak.

This Saturday, Fresno State will head to Laramie, Wyo., to visit the Wyoming Cowboys (4-4, 2-2 MWC).

“It’s going to be great, another late game,” DeRuyter said. “It’s always tough going on the road. I’ve been to Laramie, and it’s the highest elevation out there. Unfortunately, we’re playing outdoors, not indoors.

“It’s going to be cold, but I reminded our guys that we were 2-0 last year in below-20-degree temperatures. Bulldogs like colder temperature games. Hopefully, we do the same thing this year and play well.”

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