Despite a thud of a loss to Utah State last Saturday on a heart-breaker field goal, the Bulldogs are somehow still alive in the West Division with 3 losses. Thanks to Nevada upsetting SDSU last Saturday night, Fresno State can win their division if they win out, and end up in their third straight conference title game. Now they must travel to San Diego on a short week in what is essentially an elimination game for the Dogs, both for bowl eligibility, and the division title. Let’s take a look and see how the Dogs can retain the Old Oil Can for another year.
The offense for Fresno State actually played quite well on Saturday against the Aggies. Jorge Reyna looked sharp, the running and passing game did okay until very late in the game, and Cesar Silva made his kicks. The biggest problem at the end of the game was the O-Line’s inability to get a push for a final first down. With a 1 point lead, and after a massive goal line stand, the Bulldogs needed a yard to pretty much put the game on ice. Jorge Reyna ran for 9 yards on 1st down, and 3 feet was all that was needed. Sadly, they couldn’t get the push, and Josh Hokit was caught behind the line, forcing a punt. That gave USU the ball back at the 50, and an easy way into field goal territory to win the game at the buzzer. The playcalling right there raises a ton of questions for Bulldog fans, and the constant shuffling on the O-Line is really causing problems for offensive development. Why not use Reyna’s legs again on the edge to pick up the 1st down? Why not utilize Jalen Cropper, who has been dynamic every time that he has touched the ball? Instead, they tried to push the ball straight up the middle, when everyone and their grandma knew they were running up the middle. It didn’t make it, and now they have to deal with a 5th loss, and 3rd loss in conference.
On the other hand, the defense has continued to be confounding on all fronts. Yes, they’re replacing a lot. But, they also looked better at the beginning of the season than they look now, when it should be going the other direction. They’ve given up 500 yards in 3 straight games, especially coming off a season when they were 5th in the country for total defense. It’s a really concerning drop in production for the unit, and raises a lot of questions about the job security for Bert Watts, and if this is a harbinger of things to come for Fresno State, or just a blip? Luckily, they’ll face an offensively challenged team the next two weeks against SDSU and Nevada, so maybe this is what the defense needs to pin their ears back and get back in the positive? Having Kwami Jones finally back at the end position to partner Mykal Walker should really provide help, and allow Justin Rice, Aaron Mosby, and Levelle Bailey the ability to work only as linebackers.
If there’s any true hope for the Bulldogs on defense, it’s that SDSU currently sits at 115th in NCAA total offense. They’re averaging a touch over 326yds/gm, and only 18 offensive touchdowns all year. Meanwhile, Fresno State sits at 62nd, and almost 100 more yards/game than the Aztecs. Not to mention 37 offensive touchdowns against 18. Hopefully they can use the offensive advantage to help them win, even though SDSU ranks in the Top 10 for total offense. So it’s a good defense going against a pretty decent offense, and a mediocre defense going against a bad offense. Which is probably why this game is rated so close. SP+ gives the Aztecs only a 2 point advantage, Vegas lists the game as a Pick, and FPI gives the Aztecs only a 54% chance of winning at home. In other words, no one quite knows what the heck to expect when these two square off Friday night. And frankly, I don’t really know either. I’m not expecting a high-scoring shootout, this one definitely seems like it will have touchdowns at a premium. Given the fact that Fresno State needs this one to stay alive, I think they come in a bit more motivated, especially to retain their trophy for another year. But then again, I’ve been wrong a bunch this year, so maybe don’t take my picks as gospel.