Utah State vs. Fresno State: Three Keys To A Bulldogs Win
The Bulldogs host the Aggies in a crucial Mountain West football game for each side’s division title hopes.
Two puzzling teams clash in a de facto elimination game.
WEEK 11: Utah State Aggies (4-4, 3-1 Mountain West) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (4-4, 2-2 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, November 9 — 4:00 PM PT/5:00 PM MT
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, California (40,737)
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found on 940 AM, while the Utah State broadcast can be found on 1290 (AM) The Zone.
SERIES RECORD: Fresno State leads the series 17-12-1. In the last meeting on October 22, 2016, the Aggies defeated the Bulldogs, 38-20, in Logan.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State defeated Hawaii on the road in a 41-38 shootout, while Utah State lost the Old Wagon Wheel at home to BYU, 42-14.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Fresno State -5
SP+ PROJECTION: Fresno State by 3.9 (59% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Fresno State by 11.8
The Fresno State Bulldogs look to keep their title defense hopes alive on Saturday afternoon against an opponent, the Utah State Aggies, who have been equally confounding to their own fanbase.
In Gary Andersen’s first year back as head coach, things haven’t gone quite as planned to this point. Erratic performances from big-time quarterback Jordan Love and defensive letdowns have put the Aggies on the doorstep of falling out of contention just one year after posting one of the program’s best seasons ever. Of course, you could still say the same of the Bulldogs themselves, which means there will be a lot on the line for both sides.
Here’s how the Bulldogs can score a win over the Aggies to stay in the hunt for the conference crown.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Take advantage of a slumping run defense.
One big reason for the Aggies’ recent slide is that their ability to stop the run has taken a big step backwards in recent weeks. Against Air Force and BYU, Utah State has allowed a combined 5.58 yards per carry and tallied just five tackles for loss, a struggle that can’t be entirely explained way by the loss of star linebacker David Woodward, who was confirmed to be finished for the year over the weekend.
At the same time, Fresno State’s running game is suddenly the best in the Mountain West, averaging 6.59 YPC in conference play despite losing guard Netane Muti and, just this week, center Matt Smith to season-ending injuries. Four-star redshirt freshman Tyrone Sampson will step into the latter’s starting role at a crucial time, since clearing holes for Ronnie Rivers has been the offense’s biggest strength recently.
2. Get more big pass plays through the air than the Aggies do.
This hasn’t been either team’s strong suit to date, but whichever quarterback is able to create more chunk plays could give their team a significant edge. Jordan Love has had a 20-yard pass play on just 9.8% of his attempts, while Jorge Reyna has a rate of exactly 10% (for comparison’s sake, San Jose State’s Josh Love is at 12.4% and Colorado State’s Patrick O’Brien is at 13.7%).
Even a modest bump could tilt field position in Fresno State’s favor, at a minimum, and it’s worth keeping in mind that, despite the occasional glaring lapse, the Bulldogs secondary has actually been pretty good about preventing those same plays. They sport a 7.7% rate of 20-yard pass plays allowed while Utah State sits at 11.7% on defense, so it should be an advantage in Reyna’s favor.
3. Keep Jordan Love on the ropes.
A lot of things have gone wrong for Utah State so far in 2019, but the one that’s gotten the most attention by far are the senior quarterback’s struggles. His 4.06% interception rate is nearly three times higher than it was last year while the aforementioned chunk play rate has dropped from 11.2%.
That’s more good news for a maligned Bulldogs defense. Their 4.13% INT rate against FBS competition is actually 11th overall, so punishing Love’s mistakes could put Fresno State in a position to really put the clamps down: When given a short field on offense (at their own 40 or better), the ‘Dogs have averaged 4.64 points per drive, the 15th-best figure in the country.
Both of these teams have struggled with recent malaises, but what should ultimately make the difference in this game is that Fresno State has shown the ability to put up points despite its defensive woes. The Aggies might be able to land some blows, but it’s hard to imagine Jordan Love putting together a flawless 60 minutes at this point.
Fresno State 35, Utah State 27