Coming off of their third loss of the year, the Bulldogs travel to Las Vegas to face the UNLV Rebels, hoping to pick up a much-needed victory in their conference opener following a tough loss which witnessed Fresno State blow a 31-point lead.
Head football coach Tim DeRuyter has stressed the importance of conference play since he was hired and sees this week as a fresh start.
“It’s a brand new season starting this week. We’re 0-0 in the conference,” DeRuyter said. ‘We’ve got to start off by going on the road against a UNLV team that we had a close game with a year ago, and our guys realize that the first four games at this point really don’t matter, other than that it prepared us to get into the conference play.”
Fresno State narrowly beat UNLV 31-28 at home in 2015 — the Bulldogs and Rebels both ended the season with 3-9 records.
UNLV also has a 1-3 record; the lone win came against FCS school Jackson State. The Rebels lost to UCLA, Central Michigan and most recently to Idaho in a game in which they were 15-point favorites at home.
Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez enters his second year in charge of the program after serving in the same capacity at famed Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. At Bishop Gorman, he went 85-5 and won the state championship every year.
The Rebels’ leading player is running back Lexington Thomas, who averages 6.9 yards per carry and already has racked up six touchdowns. Given that Fresno State gave up over 350 yards rushing against Tulsa and has struggled against the run this year, stopping Thomas will be key.
Before the Tulsa game, DeRuyter decided to intensify practice with more physicality due to getting blown out by Toledo. After another loss, DeRuyter plans to keep those changes going in practice.
“We made the decision last week that at the risk of maybe getting someone hurt we had to go more live, and we’re going to continue to do that, I think our guys handled it really well,” DeRuyter said. “We made improvements, and we need to make the same kind of improvements now that we’re in the league.”
Fresno State is trying to avoid a third losing season in a row, which has put pressure on DeRuyter. The number of disgruntled fans is growing as more and more people are calling on Athletic Director Jim Bartko to fire DeRuyter according to listeners chiming on KMJ 580 AM radio and fans on Facebook.
DeRuyter says he understands why fans are unhappy, but he remains confident in his team’s ability to produce this year. He is not worrying about the negativity surrounding the fanbase.
“It’s part of the business, and I get it,” DeRuyter said. “One of the things I love about being here is that people care; people want to win. I don’t want to be at a place where people don’t care. So when you don’t have success you’re going to hear about it, and I expect that, but I want people to know this team’s got a chance.”
Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. The game is being broadcast on CBS Sports Network and locally on 940 AM ESPN Radio.