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October 22, 2013

A look back: UNLV analysis

The No. 17 ranked Fresno State Bulldogs easily defeated the UNLV Rebels on their way to improving to 6-0. The 'Dogs had little problem beating a UNLV team that had a lot of momentum after winning four straight games.

The Bulldogs got out to an early lead in this game and coasted to the finish line.

Offensive Production

The Bulldogs' offense continued to put up gaudy numbers against the Rebels. Fresno State's offense ended the day with 641 yards, 33 first downs, and 38 points, with their only turnover coming on an interception by Isaiah Burse on a double pass.

Heisman Candidate quarterback Derek Carr continued to do what he has done all season long, but did so in a different manner. Carr completed 33 of 48 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions, but in doing so was able to showcase his arm strength for the first time this year. While his timing with receiver Josh Harper was off on multiple bug play attempts, Carr was able to complete a number of passes down the field. His longest throw of the night would come on the very first play from scrimmage when he completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams.

While UNLV's man coverage often times allowed Carr to take shots downfield, the Bulldogs' running game played a big role in opening up the pass. Fresno State's stable of backs put up 175 yards on 33 carries, having one of their most productive games of the season. It looked as thought the coaching staff had chosen their every down back in Marteze Waller, who got all but a few first half carries. However, Waller would suffer an unknown foot injury early in the fourth quarter forcing the coaching staff to revaluate the Bulldogs' running game.

The receiving corps was led once again by Adams, who since his lackluster performance against Hawaii seems to have returned to his normal self. Adams would have the biggest game of his career against UNLV tallying up 221 yards and four touchdowns on eight catches.

Although it will never show up on the stat sheet, the offensive line play was stellar for the 'Dogs once again. They did their job all night by keeping Carr's jersey clean after not allowing a sack, and opened gaping holes in the running game.

Relentless Pressure

The defense played up to the motto set by coach Tim DeRuyter, "fast, physical, and fanatical." They brought relentless pressure throughout the night sacking the mobile Caleb Herring three times and forcing him into countless more mistakes.

As good as the defense was, they did not play a perfect game. The Bulldogs showed a glimpse of one of the things that has been plaguing them all season, their susceptibility to the big play. The 'Dogs played stout defense all night, but got lazy on one play and it would hurt them on the scoreboard. After allowing only 37 yards in the first quarter, in the second UNLV running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence took what should have been a short running play, up the middle for a 73 touchdown to open up scoring for the Rebels.

The pass rush was anchored by the play of emerging star Ejiro Ederaine. Ederaine had five tackles and added to his already team leading sack numbers, getting to Herring once. With all UNLV's attention on the Bulldogs' outstanding front three, Ederaine and fellow outside linebacker Donavon Lewis had numerous opportunities to make plays off the edge.

One of the biggest surprises of the season thus far has to be the continuous stellar play of nickel corner Jonathon Norton. The former walk-on senior, who only earned a scholarship this year, was again outstanding for the 'Dogs. Norton has emerged as one of the team's best open field tacklers and was crucial in getting the 'Dogs off of the field on third downs.

The defensive player of the game would have to go to the Bulldogs' cornerback L.J. Jones. Jones did not have the interceptions or sacks to fill the stat sheet, but his coverage on UNLV's star receiver Devante Davis was crucial to the defense's success. Coming off back-to-back 140+ yard games, Davis was held in check all night tallying only 50 yards against the physical, hard-hitting corner.

Not So Special Teams

Although the 'Dogs played a fairly mistake free game and won handedly, their special teams play again let them down as it has done all season.

Against UNLV the Bulldogs' kick coverage team could not keep UNLV on their side of the 50. The 'Dogs attempted a deep kickoff only to have it returned into their own territory before choosing to go to the pooch kick. The pooch kick was also a failed experiment allowing two returns into Bulldog territory. In fact it seemed the only time the Rebels would start inside their own 35 was on a lone touchback.

The kick coverage has not been Fresno State's only special team weakness. The return game has also been mediocre at best. Aside from two big returns, Dillon Root has been anything but electrifying. Root has great speed, but almost never makes a guy miss in space, and is often tackled by the first man down the field. With that being said Root has been sure handed and has yet to make a big mistake that has cost the 'Dogs points. With an offense that does not need great field position to be successful the ability to not turn the ball over could be deemed the most important job of Fresno State's return man.

The Bulldogs look to improve every week, and the coaching staff has surely picked out all the spots in which they can get better. The 'Dogs take on San Diego State this week and look to be 1-0 again come Saturday night.

You can follow FSBulldogs.com on Twitter at @FresnoDogs.


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