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Bulldogs Survive and Advance

Fresno wins close game over Nevada 34-32

NCAA Football: Nevada at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

A week after pitching a shutout against one of the conference’s worst offensive teams, Fresno State returned home to take on one of the best offensive teams in Nevada. After almost watching the reverse of Fresno’s final drive against UCLA, they were able to stymie Nevada’s 2pt conversion attempt with 2 seconds to go, and held on for a win to hand the Wolf Pack their first conference loss of the season. Let’s recap what happened.

In a game that we all thought would be dominated by offense, the first quarter was seemingly run by the defenses. The first two drives by both teams amassed a total of 43 yards and four punts. The track meet we were promised started slowly, but Nevada did eventually get the scoring started on their 3rd drive, with Brandon Talton sending a 32yd field goal through the uprights to go ahead 3-0. This would also be the last time that Nevada would lead in the game, as they spent the next three quarters attempting to play catch-up.

Fresno State was quick to answer Nevada’s score, as Ronnie Rivers took a handoff from Jake Haener, made a fantastic jump cut behind the line, and dashed through for a 64yd touchdown run. Unfortunately, at the end of that run, Rivers had his ankle rolled up on by the defender, which would take him out for the rest of the game. Just like the prior year against Nevada, one long touchdown run was all that he mustered before an ankle injury sidelined him.

The next drive for Nevada looked more like we expected, with Carson Strong moving them down the field by going to Romeo Doubs 3 times. A 2nd and 7 play became 3rd and 11 as David Perales got his first sack of the day, and Strong’s 4th time targeting Doubs became a Bulldog interception as Daron Bland jumped the route and returned the ball to the 9yd line. It was an uncharacteristic play by Strong, but shows the improvement of the Fresno State defense of generating turnovers over the last two weeks.

The Bulldogs would then orchestrate a 10 play, 91 yard drive kickstarted by a beautiful pass from Haener to Keric Wheatfall and the running of backup RB Jordan Mims. The drive would end with Mims rushing in for his first touchdown of the day on a 1yd play to go ahead 14-3, showing that the offense could still move without Rivers on the field.

Fresno State looked set to break the game open on their next drive following another Nevada punt, but Jalen Cropper fumbled the ball deep in Bulldog territory on a quick slant route. Jordan Lee forced the ball out, with Lawson Hall recovering at the 12yd line. This was Cropper’s second fumble in 3 games, and is a worrying stat that the Fresno coaches will hopefully be shoring up before facing SDSU’s stout defense on Saturday. Nevada would turn that fumble into points after only 2 plays, with Cole Turner using his height to score a 2yd touchdown to bring the score back to 14-10. This score would hold until halftime, with both teams running out the clock.

Halftime featured the retirement of Lorenzo Neal’s jersey, the 8th retirement in Fresno State history. The former fullback was on hand for the honor, and it was long overdue for the former Pro Bowler. Now, if only we can get Logan Mankins’ or JD Williams’ jersey retired next.

After the break, we were finally treated to the offensive explosion we were waiting on, with Fresno taking the opening drive 65 yards down the field into the endzone. Jordan Mims rushed the ball very well against Nevada’s defense, and Keric Wheatfall made an acrobatic catch through interference for an 11yd touchdown, losing his helmet in the process of the catch.

Nevada would respond with their own 65yd touchdown drive, punctuated by a Justin Lockhart catch for 30yds to the endzone. Jay Norvell would go for 2 points here, which went nowhere. This attempt would come back to be the difference in the game, as Nevada would of course need to make up those points somewhere else. While I can understand wanting to only be down 21-18, that early in the 3rd quarter, taking the PAT behind an almost automatic kicker would have been the smart decision given how prolific your offense had been. On the list of questionable coaching moves of the weekend, it wasn’t as bad as some of the others, butt was definitely on the list.

The offensive showdown was officially on in the next drive, as the Dogs would make an 88yd drive down the field, with passes to 4 different receivers and a 23yd run by Jordan Mims setting up his second touchdown of the day, this time a 7yd passing score from Jake Haener on a shovel pass to go up by 12 points. The Pack responded with their own long drive to end the 3rd quarter, eventually finding Romeo Doubs on an 11yd strike to pull back within 5 points to begin the final period. After the entire first half featured 24 combined points, the 3rd quarter alone had 27.

Quarter 4 began with the Doubs touchdown, then Fresno State using their balanced offense to get down the field before stalling in Nevada territory, forcing a Cesar Silva FG attempt from 47 yards out. Every Fresno fan held their breath, but the kick sailed through cleanly, and the lead returned to 8 points. Nevada’s next drive would end with a punt, as an Aaron Mosby sack on 3rd down brought up a 4th and 12 play for the Pack.

Fresno’s next drive would begin with a sack, even through the Bulldog O-Line had done an excellent job of holding back Nevada’s elite D-Line throughout the game. Against a unit that has been averaging 4 sacks/gm, they were only able to generate 1 against Haener, and the O-Line did a great job of opening up lanes for the running backs. Much improved from the reshaped unit, and hopefully this is them turning the corner for the rest of the season.

Anyway, tangent over, back to the game. Jordan Mims would run the ball 6 times on this drive, as Fresno began trying to bleed the clock dry, eventually leading to another Cesar Silva field goal with 5 minutes left in the game and an 11 point lead. Now is when things started to get kind of zany.

The Bulldog defense’s game plan against Nevada had been pretty clear, allow the underneath passing game while preventing big plays down the field. They accomplished that for almost the entire game, but cracks began to appear in the last five minutes of game time. Carson Strong and the offense was able to convert a 2nd and 25 with a 30yd pass to Cole Turner, then a 25yd pass to Romeo Doubs to get to the Bulldog red zone. Thankfully, the drive would stall there, with Brandon Talton booting through a 38yd field goal to bring the Wolf Pack deficit back to 8 points.

It made sense after getting the ball back with 4 minutes to go, that Fresno would try to just slow the game down and finish things off, but it would not be that easy. A holding penalty sent them far behind the chains, and an incomplete pass mixed with Nevada’s timeout at 3:05 forced a Bulldog punt and another opportunity for Carson Strong.

Even after punting the ball back, it looked like the Dogs had sealed the win, as David Perales forced a fumble from Strong on 1st down, with Evan Williams recovering the ball at midfield. With less than 2 minutes to go, and Fresno State holding the ball, they’d be able to just sit and hold it, right? Well, it wouldn’t be that easy, as Nevada’s two final timeouts, and only 7yds of offense forced one final punt with less than 1 minute to go.

After watching Fresno State march down the field against UCLA with less than a minute and no timeouts, this felt like a bizzaro version, as they watched Carson Strong do the exact same thing, minus the hip injury. William Inge dropped 8 into a prevent defense, and Strong picked them apart one chunk at a time, before finding Cole Turner one more time for a 12yd touchdown completion with 2 seconds remaining.

It all comes down to this final 2pt conversion after the failed attempt earlier in the game. Strong found his star receiver Romeo Doubs in the back of the endzone, but Husky back Justin Houston was able to push Doubs over the end line, and his feet came down out of bounds. The try was unsuccessful, and it looked like the Bulldogs would hold on for dear life to a win.

There was just enough time for a Nevada onside kick attempt, aided by a 15yd penalty on the Bulldog bench. The ball bounced off of multiple players, and the Wolf Pack was able to recover the ball in field goal territory, but the clock had officially hit 0 before the recovery was made, meaning the Dogs won on a very strange ending. With that, Nevada took their first conference loss of the season, and Fresno State moved into 2nd place with a pivotal game against San Diego State looming this upcoming Saturday. The Red Wave could collectively exhale, and appreciate that the team was bowl eligible for the first time since 2018 and within striking distance of 1st place in their division.

What’s Next:

Fresno State travels to Carson this weekend to face off against West Division leaders and #21 team in the country, San Diego State. This game should be the decider for the West Division, as a win for the Dogs would give them a head-to-head tiebreaker, and an Aztec win would give them an extra game buffer over the Bulldogs. Will the Aztec defense be able to slow the passing attack of Fresno, and will the Dog defense be able to contain SDSU’s rushing offense?

Nevada will return home for their biggest rivalry game on Friday night, the Fremont Cannon game against UNLV. The Rebels are still looking for the first win of the Marcus Arroyo era, while Nevada hopes to keep the Cannon blue for another year.