Every team in college football has THAT OPPONENT. The one that might not be a rival, but just somehow has your number to make your life hell. For Fresno State the last 5 years, that team has been UNLV. It started in 2014 when a team that would somehow win its division at 6-6 went to Las Vegas after winning 3 straight conference games. This was also a UNLV team that would limp to 2-11, and have only 1 FBS win all year, but you can guess who the one win was. Yep, those Bulldogs went into the desert, and left with a 30-27 overtime loss to UNLV. They got College Kicker’d out of that one, and any chance of ending the year above .500 evaporated. The next season, the Dogs would somewhat return the favor in a rain-soaked Bulldog stadium, with Kilton Anderson delivering a last minute win for the terrible Dogs that year. Just not going to talk about 2016, because everything was terrible, and we get to Year 1 of the Jeff Tedford era. The team is riding high in his first year, starting out 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 2013. Then UNLV came to town.
The Bulldogs tried to sleepwalk their way through a game against a team they thought was overmatched, but the Rebels had other plans. They pulled a massive upset, winning 26-16, and continued to be a massive thorn in the side of the Bulldog football program. Tedford and the players have talked about how much they wanted to get revenge for that game, and boy, did they ever last night. The defense almost pitched their first shutout of the year, and UNLV’s defense was no match for a high-powered Fresno State offense. The Dogs rolled through the Rebels, 48-3, in a game that wasn’t even that close.
Fresno State won the coin toss, and deferred to the second half, and put their defense out on the field first. That elite defense would force a 3 and out aided by a UNLV false start penalty. Mykal Walker would fly around the edge of the punt unit, and get a hand on the ball, leading to Fresno State taking over at the UNLV 45 yard line. A 15 yard punt, no team will argue with getting that kind of field position to start their first drive. Marcus McMaryion would need only 6 plays to drive the offense to the endzone. Keesean Johnson did his reception for the 45th straight game, and Jamire Jordan took a 12yd pass from Marcus into the endzone to start the scoring. Bulldogs up 7-0 after Asa Fuller hits the PAT.
Things would actually hold at 7-0 for awhile now, as UNLV threw absolutely everything they could at the Fresno State offense to slow them down. And for about a quarter, it worked. They stymied the running game, and even got a rare interception from Marcus, the team’s first turnover lost in a month. And if not for a missed FG by Evan Pantels, it might have seemed like an actual game. The missed field goal though help give some more momentum to Fresno State, and they capitalized. The ground game began to finally gain traction, and Ronnie Rivers would punch it in the last 2 yards to put the Dogs up 14-0 for his 5th rushing touchdown of the year. He’s already hit his touchdown total from last year, and he’s still got at least 4 games to go to add onto that.
Quick note before I move onto the rest of the game. Asa Fuller has been shaky all season, that’s definitely not a controversial statement. He’s been at about 66% on his field goals, and 85% on PATs. Not strong stats, especially coming off Jimmy Camacho and Kody Kroenig. Now, this is Asa’s first season as the kicker. All Fresno State fans remember Kevin Goessling’s struggles as a freshman, and how he developed in his career. Asa went 100% on everything last night. He hit both of his field goals, and all 6 of his PATs. Great improvement from him, and seems to stem from a healed hip that had been bothering him. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, special teams can be a make or break unit coming down the stretch of the season.
On that note, Asa helped the Dogs stretch their lead by absolutely drilling a 35yd field goal before the close of the half to get Fresno State to a 17-0 lead at the bell. While Fresno State had done a decent job moving the ball, and did a great job locking down the UNLV offense, the UNLV defense truly came to play in the first half. Tim Skipper threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Bulldog offense, and had turned a porous unit into a semi-decent one. Like I said, they even managed to pick off Marcus McMaryion, and that almost never happens. As would be proven into the second half, it wasn’t sustainable, but they showed signs of life on defense that we really haven’t seen this year.
Well, if UNLV had any hopes of turning things around after the half, that ended pretty quickly. Fresno State received the ball after winning the coin toss, and needed 5 plays to get to the UNLV redzone after a Marcus McMaryion run set them up at the 17yd line. Delvon Hardaway would get the Dogs inside of the 10 yard then, and then Kyle Riddering got hit in the flat completely alone for a 9yd touchdown reception. So far this year, Ridding has 5 receptions, and 3 touchdowns. That’s a pretty dang good ratio if you’re a player, and shows how much the coaching staff loves to use the big tight ends near the goal line. They get the height and numbers advantage on their side, and almost always have a clear shot for 6 against any defense. 24-0 Bulldogs early in the 3rd.
The 3rd quarter is really where things started to snowball for both teams, with Fresno State putting up 17 points, and UNLV having two punts and an interception in the quarter. The interception followed the Riddering touchdown, and Jaron Bryant almost got into the endzone himself, finally being pulled out of bounds by Max Gillam at the 5. Josh Hokit would only need 1 play to get to the corner and hit the pylon to stretch the lead to 31-0, and the style points were on. The next UNLV possession would end in yet another punt, and this time Ronnie Rivers got a 21yd return to set up again in plus territory. Was good to see Michiah Quick get involved after his leg injury against Minnesota. He’s been hoping to have a big impact here as a senior, and it’s been hard when he was injured. This time, it wouldn’t be a TD, but Asa Fuller’s 2nd field goal of the night, this time was 47 yards out. This makes it the longest field goal he’s kicked this season, and made the lead now 34-0 for the Dogs.
On the next possession, Fresno State had to start in their own territory, which was a big of a victory for the UNLV punt team. Following on with the team’s ethos of spreading the ball around as much as humanly possible, Keesean Johnson, Ronnie Rivers, Dejonte O’Neal, Jordan Mims, Jamire Jordan, and Derrion Grim would all get the ball in their hands, with Grim punching the ball in from 10yds out to get his 2nd touchdown of the season. Fresno State would be up 41-0 before UNLV would get on the board, and we were now in the 4th quarter. Any shakiness that the defense had shown against Hawaii was definitely sorted out against the Rebels, and they were back to locking teams down and keeping them out of the end zone.
UNLV almost got a touchdown on this drive, and they got all the way down to the 1yd line using Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas to drive down the field. Now, the 52yd drive didn’t look great from a rush defense perspective, but this was without Jeff Allison and most of the starters on the field, so...eh? Down at the 1 though, Charles Williams ran into the back of his own lineman, then went backwards instead of getting around the edge. He got tackled at the 14, and that 13yd loss pretty much spelled the end of UNLV’s touchdown threat. Evan Pantels would connect this time from 28 yards out, and the Rebels were on the board finally, down 41-3.
The Bulldogs weren’t done yet though. With Jorge Reyna taking over under center, and Saevion Johnson taking over in the backfield, we got a quick preview of what the offense will probably look like next year. Saevion would get 45 yards on 3 rushes, including a 37yd run all the way down to the UNLV 2. Jorge would even pitch in his own run for 11yds, which did help bleed the clock down. Johnson would scoot in from 2 yards away to move the scoreboard to 48-3, and that would be the final score in Las Vegas. The Rebels would actually favor on their last drive, getting all the way down to the Fresno State 6 before the clock finally bled out. Have to hand it to the coaching staff to play all the way down to the final whistle, but it just wasn’t enough. My score prediction was off by 4 points for both teams, which is actually the 3rd time that’s happened so far. I’ve been close, but haven’t hit a prediction dead-on yet. Maybe next week.
And one last note. Who do I have to bribe at USA Today to get some updated photos? Still trying to use pictures from the UCLA and Minnesota games that I haven’t used since September. Grumble, grumble, grumble.
What Happens Next:
Fresno State (8-1, 5-0 MWC) will face their biggest test of the year on Friday when they travel to the blue turf of Boise for an ESPN2 game against the Broncos.
UNLV (2-7, 0-5 MWC) will now travel to San Diego to visit the Aztecs Saturday night on ESPN2 as well.