Who: Fresno State Bulldogs (1-1 MWC) @ UNLV Rebels (0-2 MWC)
When: Saturday, November 7, 2020, 12:30PM
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV (current capacity: 5,000)
How to Watch: Game will be Broadcast on CBS Sports Network
After a strong bounceback game to get into the win column for the first time in 2020, now Fresno State must take their show on the road for the next two games in the wacky Mountain West season. The first stop on that road trip will be the brand new Allegiant Stadium to face the Rebels of UNLV, with both teams under first year head coaches. Let’s take a look at the matchup, and see how the Dogs can get above .500.
What Went Well:
We all knew that the Dogs wouldn’t turn the ball over 4 times again, and they managed to have 0 turnovers against Colorado State in an easy 38-17 win. Jake Haener looked far more comfortable in and out of the pocket, and was not forcing as many throws as he had the week before. This does lend credit to the theory that Week 1’s loss was due more to the truncated Fall camp and first game rust, but there is still room for improvement for the offense. We did see more of Jalen Cropper flashing his speed, Keric Wheatfall really looks like a WR1, Ben Woolridge looked great in a single drive, and the running game looked more competent to the edges. Now the Dogs will face a UNLV defense giving up more than 450 yards and 35 points a game. The team does seem to be gelling far more, even though the Bulldogs have had some really bad luck traveling to Vegas in recent history.
The defense looked transformed in Week 2 against the Rams, even though CSU’s offense definitely helped the cause with inaccurate throws and drops in critical positions. Still, a defense that got gashed for 325 yards on the ground in Week 1 gave up 149 total in Week 2. This week though, they will face one of the better running backs in the conference in Charles Williams. The Fresno native has always had extra incentive against Fresno State, and has been dynamic against the Bulldogs before. Will William Inge’s 4-2-5 defense sell out to stop the run, or will they try to force the Rebels to the ground by covering Max Gilliam?
Preview on UNLV:
The Rebels are also under a new coach, with Marcus Arroyo taking over the program from Tony Sanchez. He brings a good record of recruiting and coaching to Vegas, but he has a long road ahead of him to build a strong program. His tenure has begun with a bit of a thud, with a 34-6 loss to SDSU to start the season, then losing the Fremont Cannon 34-19 to rival Nevada. They’re also looking a bit thin, losing top receiver Randal Grimes to suspension, and Mekhi Stevenson to an opt-out, leaving Max Gilliam with less targets than he was prepared for. This leaves more work for Charles Williams, although he hasn’t been the most effective on the ground, averaging less than 5 yards a carry. Now, Fresno State’s defense has not been great against the running game, so this can really go either way in terms of production. Could be a shootout, could be a slapfight. Won’t really know until the final bell rings tomorrow evening, but I give the edge to Fresno State here. UNLV’s offense appears to be pretty dysfunctional at this stage, which is understandable with a new staff ans system in place, and a wonky season.
Which Fresno State team shows up? The one that went straight through Colorado State, or the one that laid a monster egg in Week 1 against Hawaii? Fresno State has had problems traveling to Vegas before, and 2020 is full of wacky voodoo nonsense. Vegas is giving the nod to Fresno State as 11 point favorites, and that is the same for Bill Connelly’s SP+ expected spread. ESPN’s FPI gives the Bulldogs a 66% chance of a win, and I think that’s probably about what we’ll see. The Dogs get more comfortable playing, plus two extra days after playing last Thursday instead of Saturday to rest and practice gives them the edge. I’ve been wrong so far twice, but I might be right this week.