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Tulsa vs. Fresno State preview: Listing ‘Dogs look to right the ship against Golden Hurricane

The stakes are high as Fresno State’s non-conference slate comes to a close.

Fresno State v Toledo Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

WEEK 4: Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-1) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (1-2)

WHEN: Saturday, September 24 — 1:30 PM PT

WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA (41,031)

TV: The game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network, which can be found on Campus Insiders. It will also be available on Twitter.

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: This will be the seventh meeting between the Bulldogs and the Golden Hurricane; Fresno State leads the series with four wins in the previous six games. In their most recent clash, however, Tulsa rallied for a 27-26 win on September 22, 2012.

WEBSITES: GoBulldogs.com, the official Fresno State athletics website | TulsaHurricane.com, the official Tulsa athletics website

When the Fresno State Bulldogs lost in Toledo last Saturday, it brought to mind, in the minds of many in the Central Valley, a lot of unpleasant memories of 2015. If head coach Tim DeRuyter had inched off the hot seat in the games which preceded the blowout, he was now squarely back upon it.

The ‘Dogs need a complete sixty minutes in front of a fanbase more prone to apathy than most, and whether they get it depends on whether they can solve an opponent that, to some extent, remains a mystery. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane, in their second year under head coach Philip Montgomery, dismantled San Jose State in their home opener, then struggled in a blowout loss at Ohio State. As with most things, the truth is somewhere between both results, but if the offense finds its footing against a Bulldogs defense that suddenly looks very shaky, well...

I doubt anyone really wants to find out.

Three keys to a Fresno State win

Brother, can you spare a defensive stop? Fresno State’s defense faced one unenviable situation after another in last week’s loss but, at the same time, you’ve got to hold the line sometime. Through three weeks, though, the Bulldogs are dead last in points allowed per trip inside the 40-yard line (6.53). Opposing quarterbacks have a combined rating of 190.82 inside the Fresno 40, and opposing running backs have averaged over 6.4 yards per carry.

It may come down to forcing an interception or a fumble in order to reverse this trend, which puts pressure on the corners — Jamal Ellis and Tyquwan Glass — and the outside linebackers, James Bailey and Brandon Hughes, who have combined for zero sacks.

Get Dontel James the ball, then make some running lanes for him. It isn’t for lack of trying: The Bulldogs want to establish the run, but they haven’t been all that successful. James, who’s shown some power as a runner, was shut down against Toledo (40 yards on 13 carries) and compounded his rough day with two blocking penalties.

There’s reason for optimism, however, since Tulsa’s defense ranks 114th in the FBS in Bill Connelly’s rushing IsoPPP (which gauges the frequency and explosiveness of successful plays). Fresno State’s offensive line hasn’t played up to its potential, plain and simple, but this is its best opportunity to re-establish themselves.

Be better on special teams. The return game, in DeRuyter’s tenure, is best defined as “forgettable”, but it’s been a net weakness in 2016 when you consider the offense’s ongoing struggles. It would be helpful if they could find someone who help them establish better field position — Dejonte O’Neal did average 23 yards on three returns vs. the Rockets, and probably deserves a longer look.

It would also help if Blake Cusick improved, as well. His 36.8-yard raw punting average ranks just 93rd in the FBS, his net average (36.01 yards) is only 83rd, and just seven of his 26 punts (the most of any FBS punter) pinned opponents inside the 20. Granted, he’s learning on the job as a redshirt freshman, but a few more kicks like the 59-yarder that marks his season best would force Tulsa into longer potential drives.