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Fresno State vs. Utah State preview: Keys to a Bulldogs win

What can Fresno State do to prevent the Aggies from becoming the latest team to get well against them?

NCAA Football: San Diego State at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

WEEK 8: Fresno State Bulldogs (1-6, 0-3 Mountain West) vs. Utah State Aggies (2-4, 0-3 MWC)

WHEN: Saturday, October 22 — 7:30 PM PT

WHERE: Maverik Stadium; Logan, UT (24,206)

TV: CBS Sports Network

RADIO: The broadcast can be found in and around Fresno on the Central Valley’s local ESPN Radio affiliates: 940 (in English) and 1600 (in Spanish) AM.

SERIES RECORD: Fresno State holds a 17-11-1 advantage in this series. In the last meeting on October 10, 2015, however, Utah State routed the Bulldogs in Fresno, 56-14.

WEBSITES: GoBulldogs.com, the official Fresno State athletics website | UtahStateAggies.com, the official Utah State athletics website

FOOTBALL STUDY HALL TEAM PROFILES: Fresno State | Utah State

It gets more difficult by the week to rehash how grim things have gotten around the Central Valley. Tim DeRuyter’s latest press conference, for instance, was just 12 minutes long and can charitably be described as “terse”. People have been to advocate for the most wildly absurd and unrealistic head coach replacements, everyone from Les Miles to Jeff Tedford to... Jim Tomsula.

No, really. And no one wants to think of how empty the friendly confines of Bulldog Stadium will be, either. They have an architect for the eventual renovations now, focus on that!

It would appear opportune, then, that the ‘Dogs are finally running into a team that’s struggling just as much in conference action. While Matt Wells has been subject to the consternation of some parts of Aggieland, he still has one of the conference’s most talented quarterbacks at his disposal and a reloaded defense that has shown its potential in stretches, if not across a whole sixty minutes.

Both teams have their flaws and their promise, but what do the Bulldogs do to avoid yet another dispiriting loss?

Three keys to a Fresno State win

Can the new guys make an impact? The Bulldogs have slowly shuffled their starting lineups in the past couple weeks, some of which are by circumstance — Delvon Hardaway replaces Aaron Peck, who suffered a leg injury against San Diego State last Friday — and some of which are by choice: Logan Hughes made his first start at left guard against the Aztecs, Nela Otukolo has made two straight starts at inside linebacker, and Mike Bell was elevated to the top of the two-deep at strong safety this week.

On the whole, this would seem to signal a youth movement, but it remains to be seen what immediate dividends will be paid by the moves. Bell, in particular, is a player to watch because he flashed ballhawking skills in fall camp but had mostly seen limited live action. The redshirt freshman could jump start a secondary that has picked off just three passes this season.

Contain Kent Myers, the runner. The Aggies offensive line may earn something of a reprieve against Fresno State’s lackluster pass rush in this game: Utah State has allowed 19 sacks in six games, next to last in the Mountain West, but the Bulldogs have tallied just nine of their own, which is also next to last.

When the defense gets pressure, however, it’s critical that they finish tackles because the sack numbers obscure just how efficient a runner Myers has been this year. Bill Connelly’s Football Study Hall profile credits the junior QB with a 7.8 yards per attempt average, and his 357 yards would actually lead the team. Everyone remembers Dalton Sneed’s big run, but Dane Evans won the Tulsa game with a quarterback and Tommy Armstrong had successes scrambling, too.

Don’t let the Aggies finish drives. It’s no secret that the Bulldogs have been lousy at closing out drives with touchdowns without the benefit of big plays: They’ve scored just 3.51 points per drive inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, 124th in the nation. Utah State, however, hasn’t been much better.

The Aggies are just 108th in that same category (4.12 points per trip), and there’s no one culprit for it. The running game earns just 3.9 yards per carry in that stretch of the field, and Myers’ QB rating is just 112.82. Both teams are at the bottom of the Mountain West in red zone touchdown percentage on offense, but Fresno State has the added pressure of being 126th in the FBS on defense in that category (80.77%).

Finding stops, like the goal-line stand last week that denied Donnel Pumphrey a first-quarter score, will be very important.