The old adage says that when it rains, it pours, so you'll have to forgive Fresno State fans for being a little uneasy about Saturday's Mountain West championship game. History suggests that when the Bulldogs lose one big game, they lose another in quick succession, and the aforementioned seasons are hardly exceptions in that regard.
Fresno State is the BCS Buster that never was. A decade of disappointment has left the community understandably fickle: Break so many hearts, and eventually people will stop letting their guards down. However, this title game is still one of the biggest in school history and there's no reason not to be optimistic. Here's how the Bulldogs can avoid another hangover:
1. Strike first
The Bulldogs have scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game 8 times this season. In comparison, opponents have managed just two scores, meaning that the 'Dogs have often been able to put opponents on their heels early. Give the crowd something to get behind as soon as possible, and reap the benefits of the subsequent fan noise when the Aggies take the field to answer.
2. Avoid giving up big plays
Fresno has allowed 64 plays that gained 20+ yards and, of those, 35 went for 30+ and 19 for over 40. This has really been a bend-but-don't-break defense, but that philosophy has drawbacks that were exposed against San Jose State. If the Bulldogs can make enough stops to get to halftime with the lead, the team should be in great shape: They are 9-0 on the season when ahead after two quarters.
3. Win on third down
The Aggies have been one of the best teams in the nation on third down, both on offense and defense. They have converted 47% of their own opportunities and allowed just 31.5% to their opponents, best in the conference. Granted, Fresno has shown a willingness to challenge foes on fourth down, but getting in the habit of stalling Utah State will pay huge dividends.
If you have your own suggestions or any quibbles with this remedy, feel free to discuss it in the comments.