Hey, this is the closest my score prediction has come all season. Only 4 points off for both teams. Fresno State’s defense remains elite, and the offense had a much better showing, as they amassed almost 400yds to take another conference game over Wyoming, 27-3. The game becomes even more dominating when you consider that the Cowboys scored the first 3 points of the game, and then didn’t cross mid-field again until deep in the 4th quarter. The rushing offense was better, and the passing offense was more than efficient enough to get into the endzone 4 times, including 2 more rushing touchdowns for Marcus McMaryion.
Coming into the game, it was well known that containing Nico Evans would be the key for the Bulldogs. The most explosive back in the conference, (yes, I will fight people on this) has been pretty much the entire offense for Wyoming this year, and he was given the ball 18 times tonight. Out of those 18 rushes though, the Bulldog defense held him to only 58 yards, good for a 3.2yd average. Definitely not what Wyoming was looking for, but exactly what Fresno State was looking for. Take Evans out of the offense, and force Vander Waal to throw the ball. Coming into the game, Tyler Vander Waal has been bottom 10 in the country in most passing metrics, and that definitely didn’t improve here. He ended the night 12/32 for 117yds, no TDs, and an INT. That gave him 3.7yds/attempt, and an abysmal QBR of 20.6.
I know if you’re Craig Bohl, you’re really hoping that your QB choice will improve and carry you through the season, but Vander Waal has really been a drag on the Cowboy offense this year. He’s barely completing 50% of his passes on the year, and is sitting at only 5.4yds/attempt. So they’re not even deep passes, he just can’t seem to connect with receivers. We saw this last night again. Yes, Fresno State’s secondary is elite, and they were pretty locked on in coverage. But no the times when Wyoming was able to slip a receiver behind the coverage, the passes were either offline, or the receivers couldn’t hang on. It kept their offense behind the sticks all night, and made it so they only made two trips into Fresno State territory, and never established any sort of offensive rhythm. Their punters were definitely the offensive MVPs for Wyoming, and neither of them did a sterling job. Wyoming’s drives on average started on their own 15. Fresno State’s started on their 36 on average. The average field position difference between Fresno State and Wyoming was the greatest of any game this week, and would rank 4th on the season.
Onto the recap. Fresno State won the toss, and elected to defer, knowing they could lean on their defense. We’re used to seeing the defense need a drive or two to settle in, and we saw the same thing tonight. Wyoming used a mix of Nico Evans runs and passes from Vander Waal to move into Bulldog territory, but they stalled out on the Fresno State 28, and had to kick a FG. Cooper Rothe sent it straight through the uprights, and Wyoming was in the lead 3-0. It would be their only lead of the night, and their only points.
The offenses would trade punts on their next possession, and then the Bulldogs began to find their stride. After a terrible 25yd punt by Wyoming, the Bulldogs needed only two plays to hit the endzone. A Jordan Mims rush went nowhere, but then Marcus hit favorite target Jared Rice for a 35yd touchdown pass straight down the middle to put Fresno State up 6-3. Asa Fuller missed the PAT, but this was the only real blemish on the night. Jared Rice has really emerged since the bowl game as a top target for McMaryion, and has shown to be vital in both blocking and receiving. He’s the 2nd leading receiver now for the Bulldogs, which isn’t something you normally see for a TE.
After a few more clunky drives where neither running game could really get going, Fresno State finally put together another drive right before the end of the half. They started again in plus territory, and again it was the passing game that paid dividends. A pass to Jordan Mims got things moving with two straight gains, then it was tight-end time! A pass to Jared Rice yielded 16yds, and a pass to Cam Sutton gained 20. He almost got to the end zone, but his acrobatic dive knocked him out at the 1. After 3 straight rushes with no TD, every Bulldog fans was getting bad flashbacks to the 2009 New Mexico Bowl. But that team didn’t have Marcus McMaryion, and this team does. He dove straight forward on 4th down, and the Bulldogs had another touchdown. Asa Fuller would hit this PAT, and the Dogs took a 13-3 lead into the locker room.
The 2nd half didn’t start any better for the Cowboys, as their first drive went for -4 yards, and they were forced to give the ball back to the Bulldogs in plus territory at the Wyo 47. This time, it would take the Bulldogs 5 plays to find pay dirt, getting Jamire Jordan in the mix with a 25yd pass play down to the 3yd line. It seems like almost every tight end will have a TD this year, as this time it was David Tangipa getting the 3yd pass from Marcus to stretch the Bulldog lead to 20-3. It is worth noting that Keesean Johnson did have multiple receptions in this game, stretching his consecutive streak to 42 games, and moving him ever closer to No.1 in the Fresno State record books. He’s only 15 receptions behind Davante Adams’ record, and 700yds behind Charlie Jones’ career receiving yards record. The yards record will be tough to pass unless the team starts blowing teams out, but the receptions record should fall to Johnson this year.
Wyoming’s next drive would lead to another punt, their 6th on the night, but would actually pin the Bulldogs back to the 15yd line. Definitely their worst field position of the night, but it would not matter much this time. Fresno State had the Wyoming defense on their heels, and they were able to put together a methodical 85yd drive to hit the endzone again. Ronnie Rivers pitched in 53yds through a 34yd reception and a 19yd run, and then Keesean caught a pass down to the 1yd line. A false start would shift the offense back, but then Marcus McMaryion would call his own number, and deliver on a 6yd touchdown scramble to the pylon to put the Bulldogs ahead 27-3.
The Fresno State defense hadn’t yet delivered a turnover yet, but they got one on the next drive. Tyler Vander Waal never saw Mike Bell in coverage, and the ball went straight to his hands on the sideline. That gave Fresno their 17th turnover of the season, pushing them into 2nd in the country. They only had 16 turnovers all of last year, and are looking to explode past that number with 6 games to go in the regular season, with hope for 2 more after that. Last year’s defense was really good, and this year’s is getting into elite territory. They’re currently ranked 6th in the country in defense, and 2nd in scoring defense. This is a year after surging to 13th in the country, and they’ve improved in pretty much every metric in Year 2 of the Tedford era. Guess we don’t need to blow teams out with offense if the defense can smother them all game. Yes, Wyoming’s offense isn’t anywhere near good, but this defense has stifled all of the teams they’ve played this year, and that doesn’t look like it’ll change any time soon.
Fresno State(5-1, 2-0 MWC) will travel to Albuquerque to visit the New Mexico Lobos(3-3, 1-1 MWC). The game will be at 4:30PM, and again broadcast on ESPNU. Maybe playing in the early evening will mean voters will actually watch this team?
Wyoming(2-5, 0-3 MWC) will return home to take on the smoking hot Utah State Aggies(5-1, 2-0MWC). As of right now, it looks like USU and Fresno State are on a collision course for the conference championship game, but both still have significant games coming down the pipe before December hits.