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November 7, 2013

Game preview: Fresno State vs. Wyoming




For a Bulldog team that has been preparing for war all season, Saturday's game at War Memorial Stadium in Wyoming is a fitting battleground for one of Fresno's biggest fights of 2013.

Though the Cowboys enter the contest 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in Mountain West play, they average 516.2 yards per game and 36.5 points per game. Add that to the fact that the Bulldogs have never beaten Wyoming in Laramie, and you have yourself a nice buildup to Saturday's contest.

Like the Bulldogs, the Cowboys enter the game with a high-flying offense led by an impressive quarterback. Brett Smith ranks second in the Mountain West in total offense. Smith accounts for 349.8 yards per game. Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr accounts for 389.9. Smith has dual-threat capabilities, having rushed for 431 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He's actually the Cowboys' second-leading rusher.

The Cowboy offense is an equal-opportunity scoring machine. The Cowboys don't exactly have tons of homerun threats, but they have a number of consistent and reliable players making this offense tick. The Cowboys have four receivers with over 300 yards on the season. They've thrown passing touchdowns to six different players. Four Cowboy receivers have two or more receiving touchdowns.

Likewise, the Cowboys run the ball by committee. Shaun Wick is the team's leading rusher with 782 yards and nine touchdowns. Brandon Miller and Tedder Easton round out the backfield and have eight touchdowns between the two of them. Smith, as mentioned earlier, is the team's second leading rusher, averaging 53.9 yards a game.

Even though the Cowboys have an offense that is more than capable of trading touchdowns with the Bulldogs, their defense has some major problems stopping the run. The Cowboys' rush defense gives up an eye-popping 236 yards a game. That's good enough for 115th in the country. Surprisingly, that's only the ninth-worst rushing defense in the Mountain West.

That said, the Cowboys have a respectable pass-defense taking the field on Saturday. The Cowboys rank No. 60 in the nation for total pass defense, allowing only 229.8 yards per game. Those low numbers have the Cowboys ranked fourth in the Mountain West in that category. Unfortunately, the Cowboys also have a turnover margin that reads exactly 0.00. Simply put, they turn the ball over once for every turnover they cause.

Many people think that weather could be a factor in this game, but the Bulldogs are not inclined to agree with those people. Fresno State has already played in two games this 2013 where the weather has been 37 degrees or lower at kickoff. Fresno State put up a combined 908 yards of total offense and 80 points in those two games. Cold weather has not slowed this team down.

The Bulldogs are also finding ways to get everybody involved in this offense. Receiver Josh Harper had a school-record 17 receptions in last weekend's game against Nevada. Harper finished with 253 yards and two scores to go his reception total. Harper is only the tip of the iceberg for this Bulldog offense.

Before this season, Fresno State had played a total of 976 games in their history. Only 21 of those games featured a Bulldog receiver with 10 or more catches in a game. The Bulldogs have done it nine different times this year and they've only played eight games. Davante Adams has four of those games, accomplishing the feat every other game. He's actually ranked second nationally with 10.0 catches per game.

The Bulldogs have also found a way to get the running game going. Bulldog running back Josh Quezada finally broke the 100-yard plateau against Nevada. Quezada finished 115 yards rushing and 155 all-purpose yards. Marteze Waller is still the team's leader in touchdowns with six, but Quezada has taken over as the team's leading rusher with 488 yards to Waller's 475. Neither guys gets tackled in the backfield very often. The two running backs have only lost 12 yards a piece on the season during rushing attempts.

This game is going to come down to who wants it more. The Bulldogs are riding a wave of momentum and a belief that this team will find a way to win. The Cowboys are entering this game trying to learn a new defense, having fired their defensive coordinator after giving up 50+ points in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys will be playing inspired football, but they'll be playing newer football.

For Fresno, this game will come down to their ability to contain Smith on defense. The Cowboys go as Smith goes and Fresno State can help their own cause by forcing Smith into making mistakes. The Bulldogs can also gain a psychological edge by establishing the run early. Getting the running game going early, particularly in bad weather, will be critical to the confidence of this team. If the Bulldogs feel they can run the ball early, things are likely to open up in the tougher-to-crack passing game.

The Cowboys are facing an uphill battle on Saturday, Carr probably isn't the quarterback you want to be facing while you're adjusting to a new defensive coordinator. Look for Wyoming to try and apply pressure with their Bucks (linebacker/defensive end hybrid) and to use stunts similar to the ones used by San Diego State.

On the flip side, expect this Bulldog team to be prepared for different packages they'll see, having learned from that game against the Aztecs. The magical line for the Bulldogs to hit is 31 points. The Cowboys are 0-4 on the season when surrendering more than 31 points. If the Bulldogs can hit that total, they're likely going to win.

Prediction: Fresno State - 43, Wyoming - 31

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the 2013 Fresno State Bulldog season.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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