Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Punish the quarterback (whoever it happens to be).
It’s not a good sign for any team, let alone one with a lengthy rebuild ahead of it like UNLV, when four different players throw at least one pass in three games. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced Arroyo to turn to a true freshman and a transfer who’s only been in the program for two months, however, and seeing what that has wrought is not pretty: According to Brian Fremeau, the Rebels have averaged just 0.76 points per drive outside of garbage time and 4.5 yards per attempt, and they’ve completed just 47.5% of passes as a team.
Assuming Doug Brumfield is back to 100%, it’s reasonable to say he’ll be back as QB1 but, regardless of the circumstances, the goal here is simple: Eat whoever is under center alive. Other than a shaky stretch in the second half of last week’s game against UCLA, the Bulldogs have proven they have the personnel to do just that since no one on the UNLV roster is as talented as Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
2. Exploit weaknesses in pass defense.
Eric Barriere, Jayden Daniels, and Brock Purdy didn’t have much trouble moving the ball at will against the UNLV defense, which does a lot to explain why the Rebels rank 129th nationally in net percentage of available yards per drive allowed (-58.9%), 121st in opponent passer rating (167.83), and 125th in opponent completion rate (73.5%). Long story short, there’s no reason to think Jake Haener can’t do the same thing if he’s given a clean bill of health to play on Friday.
If Haener is limited after taking a beating against UCLA, though, then it could create an interesting test for Jaylen Henderson, who played his way into the backup role on the practice field after Logan Fife replaced Haener in the second half against UConn. Henderson, who was a highly sought-after quarterback prospect out of high school, has seen live action already against Cal Poly two weeks ago and could be the most important player on the field if circumstances call for it.
3. Prove you can salt the game away late with the running game.
Ronnie Rivers had his best overall game on the ground against UCLA last week, but one element of the game that has continued to bedevil the ‘Dogs is leaning on the run to slam the door late. When you remove the team’s longest second-half run of the season, a 45-yard run from Jordan Mims, that duo has averaged just 3.97 yards on 39 combined carries after halftime.
Against UNLV, getting a big lead and then sitting on it is probably what Fresno State wants to do most in order to protect Haener. Prove that last week was the start of a trend rather than a fluke, and they’ll be in good shape to do just that.
Fresno State is coming off of a big win and there’s no room for a hangover, but since both teams will be coming into Friday on a short week and the Rebels have a substantial talent deficit, this game doesn’t look likely to be any kind of trap game. Until UNLV gets its quarterback issues sorted out, they’re going to keep have long nights against superior teams.
Fresno State 49, UNLV 7