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Fresno State football: Keys to a win vs. Hawaii

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This game is as good as a race to the bottom of the West division, so here's how the Bulldogs can avoid the cellar.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

WEEK 11: Fresno State Bulldogs (2-7, 1-5 Mountain West) vs. Hawaii Warriors (2-8, 0-6)

WHEN: Saturday, November 14 -- 8:00 PM, PST

WHERE: Aloha Stadium; Honolulu, HI (50,000)

TV: The game will be broadcast locally throughout the Central Valley on NBC affiliates KSEE 24 (Fresno) and KGET 17 (Bakersfield).

RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN affiliates, 940 and 1600 AM, will broadcast the game in English and Spanish, respectively. The Warriors broadcast can be heard in and around the big island on ESPN 1420 AM.

SERIES RECORD: Fresno State leads the overall series 25-21-1. In last year's matchup at Bulldogs Stadium, the 'Dogs had to hold on for a 28-21 victory on November 29.

WEB SITES: GoBulldogs.com, Fresno State's official athletics site | HawaiiAthletics.com, Hawaii's official athletics site

This season has been one to forget for both Fresno State and Hawaii. The Bulldogs, despite their youth, came into 2015 harboring quiet expectations that they might keep the West division title in the Valley, but an assist from the weather against UNLV might be the only thing that's kept them from a winless campaign against FBS opponents.

The depths of ineffectiveness to which the team has plunged has put the 'Dogs in danger of posting the first 10-loss season in program history. Hawaii, though, represents the best chance to avoid such ignominy. They've already fired their head coach, Norm Chow, and benched transfer quarterback Max Wittek, which amounted to a dead cat bounce in their loss to the Rebels last week. Both teams are in disarray, but what will it take for Fresno to pull itself together?

1. Get after Ikaika Woolsey

Remember last year's season finale, when the Bulldogs defense looked more dominant than it had nearly all year? A lot of Hawaii's inept offense fell onto Woolsey's shoulders, as he was sacked six times throughout the game and looked generally overwhelmed in the critical first quarter. His box score from last week's game at UNLV reveals that he's more or less the same erratic quarterback he's always been: 16-33-187-0-1.

Hawaii ranks 114th in the FBS with 27 sacks allowed, dead last in the conference, while Fresno, for all of its problems, is tied for 22nd (second in the conference) in tallying 25 sacks of its own. It may come down to setting a tone early, forcing the Warriors to become one-dimensional sooner rather than later, since their running attack has averaged just 1.92 yards per carry in the first quarter.

2. Make sure no one hears Kennedy Tulimasealii's name all evening

As a unit, Hawaii's defense is nearly as rough as Fresno's, as the two rank 11th and 12th in the MWC in yards allowed per game, respectively. However, if there's one guy who could disrupt the Bulldogs offense (and Marteze Waller, in particular) from getting on track, it would be the big defensive lineman who currently leads the conference in tackles for loss.

Tulimasealii, an undersized junior at just 6'1" and 285 pounds, has nonetheless forced Mountain West opponents to account for his high level of play, racking up seven TFL in the last four games. As the defense has disintegrated around him -- he is just one of three players to have started all ten of Hawaii's games to this point -- Tulimasealii's production has become more critical, and I imagine the Bulldogs will want to do what nearly every other team has been able to do to this point: Run the football and grind the Warriors into a fine powder.

Fresno may just run plays to the outside, on the opposite side of wherever Tulimasealii lines up, but he and Waller represent another key battle the 'Dogs will want to win: UH's rushing defense improves from first to second to third down (5.22 ypc to 4.51 to 3.00), while the senior running back has been drastically better on later downs (2.73 to 6.13 to 6.86). Waller received ten first-quarter carries in last year's win, and it may be the right gameplan again if they can force Tulimasealii to have a quiet night.

3. Win the dang turnover battle

Anyone who watched last week's defeat to Nevada will remember the cringe-worthy interception that Zack Greenlee threw in the fourth quarter, a pass that looked like it was meant to sail out of bounds but... didn't. You may shudder to remember, but take heart: Hawaii is one of the few FBS teams that has been more generous than the 'Dogs in giving the football away.

The Warriors are tied for dead last, actually, with a -17 turnover margin. This is mostly fueled by an astounding 27 giveaways and, in particular, 17 interceptions between Woolsey and deposed starter Max Wittek. Fresno has struggled to be opportunistic -- Tyquann Glass's INT last week, for instance, was the Bulldogs' first in MWC action -- and they haven't been nearly productive enough with the opportunities they have created lately, but starting cornerbacks Glass and Jamal Ellis may have a big play in them that helps the defense off the field and into a much-needed rest.