Who: #22 Fresno State Bulldogs (2-1) v. UNLV Rebels (0-3)
When: Friday, September 24th, 7PM PST
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (Capacity 40,727)
How to Watch: Game will be broadcast through CBS Sports Network
After a historic upset for the Fresno State program, the Dogs now return home for a short week game against a UNLV team hungry for their first win. Let’s see what the keys are to keep the Bulldogs climbing the rankings for another week. Questions remain about Jake Haener’s health, and Fresno State has a history of dropping the ball in games like this. The players seem keyed in on going 1-0 and starting the MW schedule undefeated, and given how they responded after the Oregon loss this team seems ready to go.
So far, things in Year 2 for Marcus Arroyo don’t seem to be going much better than Year 1. The season started on a sour note with a Double OT loss to FCS Eastern Washington, then two straight blowout losses to ranked teams have left the Rebels looking for any sort of progress or consistency under center. Four different QBs have taken snaps due to injury, but it appears that sophomore QB Doug Brumfield will be back starting after suffering an upper body injury. The QBs have yet to log a passing touchdown, and the entire group has only amassed 300yds at 47.5% passing. For comparison, Jake Haener is averaging more than 300 passing yards per game at 73.6%. If there’s one area where Brumfield has been effective, it has been as a runner. Alongside senior RB Charles Williams, they’ve rushed for 300+yds and 4 touchdowns on the ground. If I am William Inge, I am again going to sell-out to stop the running game, and try to force Doug Brumfield to beat them with his arm.
Fresno State Keys:
- How healthy is Haener- after sustaining a nasty hip injury in the 4th quarter, Jake put together one of the gutsiest performances in modern memory, but now the adrenaline has worn off. He has been practicing during live periods this week, but it remains to be seen how healthy he is right now. Will the coaches want him to play the entire game, or they hope for a big lead early so they can rest him for the rest of conference play? Jaylen Henderson is again the No.2, and has taken reps with the starting lineup this week just in case he has to go on Friday night.
- We need a clean game- we’re going into game 5 for Fresno State, and we still haven’t had a game without at least one turnover. The Bulldogs are currently in the negative for turnover margin, which could bite them at some point this year. This would be the perfect chance for a clean game against a team surrendering 476 yards per game.
- Keep feeding the stars- there’s only one school in the country with two receivers in the Top 10, and it’s Fresno State with Josh Kelly and Jalen Cropper. Keeping these star receivers going is key to the Bulldogs’ success, along with Ronnie Rivers and Keric Wheatfall. Haener getting the ball out of his hands quickly has cut down on the sack numbers, and allowed the speedy players to use their skills to carve up defenses. The Rebels defense allowed a pretty pedestrian ISU offense to explode for 48 points 493 yards, and now they have a nation-leading offense on tap.
- Pack the House- with Fresno State now ranked in the Top 25, the onus is on the home fans to pack Bulldog Stadium every game to support this team. Especially as the winds of realignment continue to swirl, fan support goes a long way to increasing a team’s profile. And it gets the money flowing in to a program that’s hoping for a stadium renovation in the coming years. The Bulldog marketing team has been advertising everywhere, now it’s up to the fans. I know that I’ll be there to cheer on the Dogs to victory.
Looking around, pretty much everyone seems to see a blowout game Friday night. Vegas has assigned a 30 point spread to this one, which is a big number, but the Dogs are one of very few teams that have beaten the spread in every game. If this was a Pat Hill Fresno State team, I’d say there’s no way they cover, but I don’t see Kalen DeBoer and the staff taking the foot off the gas, especially when style points matter in the Playoff era. I don’t think that Jake Haener plays the entire game, but I see them scoring enough in the first half that he won’t be needed for the 3rd or 4th quarter.
The currently projected Over/Under is 58.5, so Vegas sees some sort of 45-14 final score. Bill Connelly’s advanced stats have the final ending somewhere around 46-14, so just a tick above Vegas. He gives Fresno State a 97% chance of winning, as does ESPN’s FPI. I think they’re all pretty close on the Fresno State side, but I’m not sure that I see UNLV scoring 14 points in this one. For my prediction, I’ve got-
Fresno State 52-7 UNLV
Let’s see how close I get on Friday night, and for the rest of your Mountain West sports content, keep it glued here on Mountain West Connection.