Let me just get this out there from the start: The Fresno State Bulldogs lost this game more than the UNLV Rebels won it. I will credit Bobby Hauck's team for not losing their composure when it seemed as though defeat would be snatched from victory in the final minutes. I will also credit them for being able to make a field goal in crunch time, as Nicolai Bornand did in sealing the 30-27 decision.
Really, though, Tim DeRuyter and company need to take a hard look at themselves after letting this game slip away.
You have to wonder at this point why the Bulldogs insist on putting the game in Brian Burrell's hands when it's painfully clear that, as you sift through his final numbers (25-of-44, 310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), the junior quarterback is not consistent enough to be a difference maker. Josh Harper had a monster game with 12 catches for 187 yards and a score, but you feel for him because Burrell didn't do him many favors with his throws. Marteze Waller is pretty clearly the second-best player in this attack, so it's disheartening that he averaged nearly nine yards yards every time he touched the ball (175 yards of total offense and a touchdown on 17 carries and four catches) and you're still left with the feeling he's being underutilized.
Dave Schramm desperately wants Burrell to be Derek Carr. He is not. He's the guy who converts just 2-of-11 third-down opportunities through the air (with one of those courtesy of a UNLV penalty). He's the guy who throws in triple coverage and makes your star playmaker do most of the work. He's the guy who gets your other receivers (looking at you, Da'Mari Scott, and feeling your pain) destroyed and turns the ball over with sailed passes.
He's not good. He's mediocre, forgettable.
You would've also figured Blake Decker was not very good coming into the game, though perhaps it should surprise no one that Fresno's soft secondary would enable his best performance of the year. Another reshuffling of the deck made little difference to the Rebels. Decker finished 29-of-40 for 332 yards and two touchdowns, one passing and one rushing. Despite the Bulldogs' five sacks, including two by Donavon Lewis, he looked cool under pressure late.
That the Rebels missed a kick as time expired was a surprise, though, as UNLV clearly held an advantage on special teams. Fresno fans must have felt a twinge of wistfulness watching the home team trot out two kickers, Bornand and Jonathan Leiva, capable of tallying three points when the Bulldogs have none. Kody Kroening missed an extra point that would've given the 'Dogs a late lead, and his woes clearly affected the playcalling in overtime because it's obvious the coaches don't trust him.
The one bright spot on defense for Fresno was the line, which won the battle with UNLV's experienced offensive line to halt the Rebels' ground game: Excepting Keith Whitely's 38-yard run, the 'Dogs allowed just 2.8 yards per carry. Tyeler Davison, not normally one to dominate the stat sheet, finished with an incredible 14 tackles, while linemate Todd Hunt chipped in with nine tackles of his own. Shaquil Murray-Lawrence scored on a short run but was more or less held in check with just 63 yards of total offense.
It is also worth noting that Kenneth Penny had a fine game for UNLV, credited with three pass breakups and an interception deep in his own territory that forestalled Fresno's comeback in the fourth quarter. That gives him 7 passes defensed for the season, second in the Mountain West.
Fresno State (3-4) wraps up its four-game sojourn under the Friday night lights when they face Boise State next week, while UNLV (2-5) has its bye before hitting the road to play Utah State on October 25.