After a demoralizing loss where the Bulldogs got pushed all over the field by Air Force, they now return home looking to right the ship, and find some answers in a rebuilding season. Luckily, they get to host a UNLV team that comes in at 2-5. If Fresno State wants to stay in the race for the West Division, and stay alive for post-season play, they’ll need to defeat a Rebels squad that’s coming off a big win over an SEC team on the road. Let’s dive in and see how things look for the young Bulldogs.
The biggest news of the week was the announcement that star lineman Netane Muti will be done for the year with a Lisfranc injury. This is his 3rd season ending injury since he joined the Bulldogs, and this one might raise the most questions on the O-Line. Syrus Tuitele and Muti were the only returning starters from last year’s stellar team, but now they’re just down to the one. The rest of the line has seen a lot of shuffling and reshuffling, including starter true freshman Bula Schmidt last week against Air Force. The offensive line is going to need to come together quickly if they want to have any success in the running game, or keeping Jorge Reyna upright.
The Air Force game was truly a game of two halves, with every Fresno State fan hoping for a repeat of the first half and forgetting the second half ever happened. The offense was humming along, Jorge Reyna was nearly perfect, the receivers were catching everything thrown their direction, and Ronnie Rivers was finding lanes to run in. Hopefully the whole team watched the tape of that first half, and practiced how to replicate that for the rest of the season. Reyna actually looked the QB Tedford said that he was, and he was getting great protection from the offensive line. We’ve also been seeing more and more of Emoryie Edwards, the local star receiver who missed his first season with a leg injury. His return adds another dimension to the offense, as he falls into the Keesean Johnson mold of smooth route runner that will always be in the right spot to catch the ball that comes to him. All the offense really needs to do is get Jared Rice more involved. Last year’s All-MWC selection has barely been seen at all, and has tallied 8 catches so far in 5 games. They have to start throwing more to the big man when he’s open in the seam.
Last week’s defensive performance against the run was definitely something to forget, but now Charles Williams comes back to town. The UNLV running back has shined again in their offense, and will present a challenge to the Bulldog defense. Last week against Vanderbilt, UNLV ran for 206 yards, including 116 from Chad Magyar. Fresno State will need to be very disciplined in the middle, and the linebackers need to be ready to plug any gaps to keep those running backs contained. And despite competing on the recruiting trail for him, the Bulldogs have still not seen Armani Rogers play against them as a Rebel. He has been hurt each time the two teams have played, and this year he is replaced by Kenyon Oblad. This season, he has been just over 50% passing, with only 5 touchdowns against 3 interceptions. Not exactly stellar numbers, but he just needs to manage the game with the great running backs behind him. I’m sure that Justin Rice, Mykal Walker, and Aaron Mosby will be looking to increase their own turnover numbers to help grab some extra possessions for the Bulldogs.
What the Dogs need to do to win:
Stay on schedule- last week, Fresno State struggled to get consistent yardage on 1st down, meaning 2nd and 3rd down became harder in the second half. They’ll need to keep moving forward this week, and hope for another 17/18 performance from Reyna to keep moving those chains.
Limit the run lanes- It’s not secret that Air Force’s offense is one that can kill by a thousand cuts, and they squeezed the life out of the Fresno State defense with an 11 minute drive to end the game. Bert Watts will need to design a scheme that can limit these running plays and clog up the lanes to keep UNLV from running the clock and dictating the pace.
Find Jared Rice- the Dogs have to get him involved in the passing game. He sets up mismatches just by his size, and helps free up the running game by attracting a bonus defender in coverage instead of in run defense.
I’d like to think that the Bulldogs will completely fix their problems, come back energized, and blow out UNLV at home. I also thought that in 2017, so I’ve learned to not take anything for granted. But the talent gap is there, and the Bulldogs are at home. I think they’ll do more than enough to keep their offense on the field, and the defense will try to show that they’re not a unit that can be pushed around by MWC opponents.