Nevada vs. Fresno State: Keys to a Bulldogs Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Bulldogs host Nevada in a critical West division matchup. Here’s how to watch for and what to watch for against the Wolf Pack.
The road to a division title gets tougher.
WEEK 8: Nevada Wolf Pack (5-1, 2-0 Mountain West) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (5-2, 2-1 Mountain West)
WHEN: Saturday, October 23 — 4:00 PM PT/5:00 PM MT
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS1, by following this link.
You can also stream the Fresno State radio broadcast on Fresno State All-Access.
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found on in and around Fresno on Fox Sports 1340 AM, as well as on the affiliates of the Bulldog Radio Network around the San Joaquin Valley. The Nevada broadcast can be found throughout Reno on 94.5 FM.
SERIES RECORD: Fresno State leads the all-time series 29-22-1. In the last meeting on December 5, 2020, the Wolf Pack defeated the Bulldogs, 37-26, in Reno.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State defeated Wyoming on the road, 17-0, while Nevada beat Hawaii at home, 34-17.
ODDS (as of 10/19, via Vegas Insider): Fresno State -3
SP+ PROJECTION: Fresno State by 9.4
FEI PROJECTION: Fresno State by 3.3
After winning a defensive slugfest on the road last weekend, the Fresno State Bulldogs are back in their friendly confines this Saturday with, once again, their biggest game of the year to date against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Since absorbing a tough loss to Kansas State in non-conference play, Jay Norvell’s Pack has picked itself up and looked every bit the preseason contender many thought they could be, stringing together double-digit wins against Boise State, New Mexico State and Hawaii over the last few weeks. Because both teams are still chasing San Diego State, however, and because the Bulldogs have already been saddled with a loss in conference play, both come into the game with plenty at stake and, for the home team, it may as well be another potential elimination game.
Here’s how the ‘Dogs can continue climbing back into first place with a win against Nevada.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Get pressure on Carson Strong (even if you can’t bring him down).
One nice thing about having an NFL-caliber quarterback on your roster is that you don’t have to be shy about leaning on him to get the job done. Such has been the case for the Wolf Pack and Carson Strong, who’s bounced back with a trio of strong performances after the team’s loss to Kansas State in September. It helps, too, to have a rock solid offensive line that can keep him upright, as evidenced by the fact they’ve allowed a 5.2% sack rate for an offense that ranks seventh nationally with 44.2 pass attempts per game.
Can the Bulldogs win what amounts to a strength vs. strength matchup? Fresno State sports a 8.3% sack rate that ranks 26th in the country, so this may be the best defensive front that Strong has seen yet. More than havoc numbers, though, the home team can do well for themselves simply by getting in his face and forcing throwaways or, even better, potential mistakes, whatever it takes to slow down what has been a powerful Air Raid in recent weeks.
2. Find a way to get Ronnie Rivers rolling.
The running game continued to struggle, for the most part, in last week’s win against Wyoming, but the Wolf Pack might actually be a better game in which to turn that element of the offense around. Nevada currently ranks 123rd in Expected Points Added allowed per rush and have struggled in about every run situation — power running short-yardage, preventing runners from getting to the second level, and getting into the backfield for stops — despite a pass rush that has only gotten better as the season has progressed.
The trick will be whether Fresno State can put Rivers in a position to exploit that potential mismatch, like Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn or Hawaii’s Dae Dae Hunter, or if they’ll get bogged down like Boise State and New Mexico State did. It’s not certain, but considering the Wolf Pack’s 10.9% sack rate (ninth in FBS), finding a way to get that job done could save Jake Haener from a lot of aches and pains.
3. Don’t get careless with the football.
Turnovers have defined the last couple weeks of Bulldogs football, for better or worse, and that could pretty easily be the case against the Wolf Pack because, even when they sputter, they don’t make big mistakes.
Through six games, Nevada leads the Mountain West with a +9 turnover margin, owing mostly to the fact that Strong has 246 pass attempts and three interceptions, a 1.22% rate that’s nearly half of Jake Haener’s (2.27%). They also haven’t put the ball on the turf very often, either, with four total fumbles and zero fumbles lost (the latter of which puts them among just five FBS teams).
By contrast, Fresno State has absorbed some terrible fumble luck, losing 8 of 11 on the year, and only Utah State’s Logan Bonner has thrown more interceptions than Haener among Mountain West quarterbacks. If the ‘Dogs can play mistake-free on offense, at a minimum, they’ll give themselves a much better chance to hold serve at home since Nevada could only benefit from a short field of two.
This is the kind of matchup that Mountain West football enthusiasts dreamed of in the off-season, with a pair of top-notch quarterbacks pitted against a pair of active and disruptive defenses and a stake in the conference title chase on the line. Small differences, then, could loom large, like the reality that Nevada’s proven more often they can salt away a game with their running attack and that, generally speaking, Carson Strong is healthier than Jake Haener right now. Expect a back-and-forth battle, but since the visitors will have the best player on the field, expect him to put Nevada over the top.
Nevada 38, Fresno State 31