After Fresno State’s hopes of 3-peating in the West Division fell with a whimper last weekend against San Diego State, their hopes of returning to a bowl game now completely hinge on getting a win on Senior Day over Nevada. After a game where the defense finally showed up only to be let down by the offense, we’ll see if both halves of the team can come together for a strong performance against the Wolf Pack.
In a season completely besieged by injuries, Fresno State suffered even more against SDSU on the offensive line. Alex Akingbulu and Bula Schmidt both had to leave the game, leaving the O-Line on approximately it’s 64th string players. I didn’t even know it was possible for that many players in one unit to get hurt in one season, but here we are. Now they just need to hope that the last two weeks will go by without any more injuries. If there is one silver lining, it’s that a lot of younger players are getting experience, which should aid the Dogs in 2020 and later. There’s been a huge amount of freshmen and sophomores playing this year, which should hopefully pay off for the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons. But it does lead to a pretty tough year for Fresno State players and fans to endure in 2019.
The constant shuffle on the O-Line has created a lot of problems for Jorge Reyna and the offense, and that reared its ugly head last Saturday with a 3 turnover performance in a game decided by 10 points. Do the Bulldogs win without the turnovers? It’s hard to say, but it couldn’t have been worse than it was. They’ll really have to hope for a bounce back game against a Nevada defense that has really come on strong in the second half of the season, including in their upset win over San Diego State. Not to mention that without Jalen Cropper (probably), the offense will need to get by without his speed on the edge. Except more work for Zane Pope and Emoriye Edwards to move the ball down the field, and open up lanes for Josh Hokit and Ronnie Rivers to work. There hasn’t been word yet on the O-Line injuries, so we could be on combination Number 6,238 in 11 games. I suppose we were lucky to see such success and injury-free years at the start of Tedford’s time, and we’re paying for it this year.
If there was a bright spot in the loss to SDSU, it was that the rush defense finally showed up. Yes, SDSU’s running game hasn’t been the elite unit we’re used to, but let us have this one. That did come with getting picked apart in the passing game, but any improvement is helpful given how rough the defense has been this year. I don’t know if it’s the massive amounts of inexperience, a coaching problem, injuries, or a mix, but it’s pretty shocking to see the difference from last year’s defense and this year’s. We’re all definitely missing Jeff Allison and Mike Bell for their Senior seasons. Like the offense though, this youth movement will probably pay off in the future, so we may have to just ride this one out. Holding an opponent to 17 points is the lowest total of the year, tied with the game against New Mexico State. Too bad it was paired with the lowest offensive showing in 3 years.
When trying to predict this game, it’s a tough one. Does the Fresno State that took Minnesota to the wire, and won at Hawaii show up? Or does the one that only managed 7 points against SDSU show up? The injuries will tell a lot of the story of the season, but ending with another year of bowl eligibility will be big for both recruiting and the narrative of Fresno State football going forward. We’re used to brief success followed by pits of defeat in Fresno, so let’s see if Jeff Tedford can finally rewrite that script. When Nevada wins, it wins close. And when it loses, it loses badly. Fresno State on the other hand seems to be winning close and losing closer, (except for UNLV and Air Force). Nevada this year though has been averaging only 19 points, and giving up 32. Fresno State on the other hand has been scoring 32 and giving up 31.
The stats and betting line all seem to point towards both Nevada and Fresno State scoring their average amounts, giving the Bulldogs a 13 point edge in both Vegas spread and SP+. FPI gives the Dogs an 87% chance of winning on Senior Day, and that honestly seems about right. Being in front of the home crowd for the seniors I think will give them the edge they need to keep their bowl hopes alive, with everything resting on the final game against San Jose State, (words I never thought I’d write). I’m not sure if they’ll beat the spread, but I think a 10 point win sounds about right for this one.