Fresno State vs. Wyoming: Three Keys to a Bulldogs Win
The Cowboys may not have Josh Allen, but Wyoming will still be a tough out. Here’s how the Bulldogs can get a victory in Laramie.
If you like defense, this is the game for you.
WEEK 12: Fresno State Bulldogs (7-3, 5-1 Mountain West) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (7-3, 5-1 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, November 18 — 11:00 AM PT
WHERE: Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium; Laramie, Wyoming (29,181)
TV: AT&T SportsNet/ROOT Sports
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found in and around Fresno on the Central Valley’s local ESPN Radio affiliates: 940 (in English) and 1600 (in Spanish) AM. The Wyoming broadcast can be heard on the Cowboys Sports Network, whose flagship is KFBC 1240 AM in and around Cheyenne.
SERIES RECORD: The Bulldogs and Cowboys are currently tied 5-5 in their series. In their last meeting on November 1, 2014, Wyoming defeated Fresno State 48-17 at Bulldog Stadium.
Back in July and August, it seemed like a remote possibility that this game would carry impliciations in the race to the top of the Mountain West. The Fresno State Bulldogs would surely rebuild one year after a 1-11 campaign, while there was no way Josh Allen and the Wyoming Cowboys would sneak up on the Mountain division again without its skill position stars. Even with a potential first-round NFL Draft pick at quarterback, he couldn’t do it all himself, right?
Fast forward to Saturday: Wyoming needs help, but the Cowboys are very much alive in the chase for the division crown. The Bulldogs can clinch its first West division title since 2014 with a victory. Stout defenses have been the calling card for both of these teams this fall, and with Allen’s health in question, this has all the makings of a good old fashioned slugfest.
Here’s what Fresno State can do to claim victory in Laramie.
Three Keys for Fresno State
Can the offense string together long drives?
It’s a bit startling to see that the Bulldogs and Cowboys are just about even by many measures on defense, both traditional and advanced, but what stands out most is that Fresno State and Wyoming rank second and third, respectively, by IsoPPP, a metric which measures just how explosive successful plays were. Put another way, the Cowboys have allowed just eight plays of 30-plus yards, which ranks second in the FBS, while the Bulldogs have allowed just nine, which ranks third. These defenses aren’t beaten easily.
This will probably mean having to put together more 13-play, 70-yard scoring drives than we’ve seen most of the season, but we’ve seen them do it before: The game-winning 88-yard drive against BYU took 6:42 off the game clock, for instance, while the first and last touchdown drives against UNLV went 78 and 89 yards and ate up over 5:00 apiece.
Punching it in for six, of course, will be easier said than done, too, as both of this team are (surprise!) even with regards to points allowed per trip inside the 40-yard line, too — Wyoming is at 3.85 points per, 23rd nationally, and Fresno State is at 3.86, which is 24th — but having one more success than the Cowboys might be all it takes.
Can the offensive line keep Wyoming’s pass rush at bay?
One of the things that got overlooked during last year’s offensive debacle was that the line was decent at keeping whoever was under center upright, but they’ve taken it to another level in 2017 and have been one of the best pass protection units in the country: Marcus McMaryion’s sack rate is just 1.9%, miles better than Josh Allen’s 7% rate.
They’ve allowed just three sacks in Mountain West play, but they also haven’t faced a defensive line quite like this. Wyoming’s depth has been tested here — Conner Cain and Ravontae Holt are out for the year with injury; Javaree Jackson, a true freshman, made his first career start at nose tackle last weekend; Sidney Malauulu is expected to see action for the first time in six weeks — but their productivity as a unit has been carried by end Carl Granderson and tackle Youhanna Ghaifan, who have combined for 25 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
It’s certainly not a two-man show, however, as Kevin Prosser has collected five tackles for loss and Jackson, in his limited action, already has 1.5 TFLs himself. As a unit, the line ranks 9th by Havoc Rate (percentage of TFLs, pass breakups and forced fumbles), so how McMaryion handles the almost inevitable pressure could be a game-changer if he’s forced into a mistake.
What exactly will the offense do to avoid turnovers?
For as impressive as Fresno State’s defensive turnaround has been, having created 17 takeaways to date after creating just nine a year ago, Wyoming is in its second straight year as one of the nation’s most opportunistic defenses. They have 27 total takeaways in just ten games, the best figure in the country, which is as many as they had all of last year. Both teams (surprise again!) have benefited from a bit of fumble luck and recovered better than 50% of those they’ve forced, but the reliance on a steady running game is probably the safest bet to avoid a field position disadvantage.
The smart money says that Jeff Tedford and offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, if they’re unable to stay on schedule against a rush defense that’s allowing just 3.72 yards per carry in conference play, will choose to play that field position game rather than risking too much in passing down situations (second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, or fourth-and-5 or more). McMaryion and the Bulldogs have continued to be one of the FBS’s worst offenses in such situations, but don’t be surprised if the ‘Dogs also shy away from throwing on early downs, which has been a relative strength, to avoid disaster.
McMaryion’s 193.52 passer rating on first down is still the best in the Mountain West by far, but Wyoming opponents have completed just 53.8% of first down passes and have compiled a 113.49 rating, both of which are also the best in the conference. Three different members of the Cowboys secondary — Andrew Wingard, Marcus Epps and Rico Gafford — have four interceptions each, so expect the offense to be very careful in when it chooses to take chances.