By Neil Patrick Healy
Bye weeks are great for teams that have been struggling for a number of reasons. The obvious one is that with no one to play teams are 100 percent undefeated during their bye week, so you can’t lose! More importantly, this bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Pack. Nevada starts the home stretch of the season with four tough games remaining on their schedule. Game one is a Thursday night showdown against the Fresno State Bulldogs, who sit at an underwhelming 2-6. Don’t let Fresno’s record fool you, because Nevada has a long history of struggling against the Bulldogs.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Long-time Pack fans know that traveling to Fresno State has never been an easy matchup. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 27-18-1 while winning 11 out of the last 17 including last year’s 40-20 loss that sent the season into a tailspin. Bulldog head coach Tim DeRuyter served as the co-defensive coordinator under former head coach Chris Ault from 2005 to 2006. Prior to this season, DeRuyter had won two Mountain West titles (2012-2013) and two West Division titles (2013-2014).
LEADING THE PACK
With no stats to work with coming off of a bye week, let us look to season stats. Nevada running back James Butler is currently ranked 33rd in the nation in rushing yards with 756 yards, four touchdowns and an impressive 6 yards-per-carry. Nipping at his heels is Don Jackson, who is ranked 54th in rushing with 673 yards, seven touchdowns and 4.9 yards-per-carry.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Fresno State is, in a word, bad. The 2-6 Bulldogs rank below the top 100 in passing yards, rushing yards, points for and points against. To make matters worse, they have had to play four different quarterbacks, including two freshmen, with three recording over 50 pass attempts. Current freshman starter Kilton Anderson has a completion percentage of 47.3 percent with one touchdown and four interceptions. Fresno’s main option at running back Marteze Waller averages a respectable 4.3 yards-per-carry with 660 yards and four touchdowns, but he averaged below four yards-per-carry and was held below 100 yards in all but two games (wins against Abilene Christian and UNLV). All Nevada has to do is stop the run against a below-average offense and play enough pass defense and the rest should take care of itself.
Nevada may have its struggles, but Fresno is on a whole other planet of dysfunction. The Pack should be able to pick up the win on Thursday night and continue their hopes of a bowl game. If Nevada can’t win this, the easiest game left on the schedule, then don’t be surprised if the tailspin goes into a complete nosedive. With two tough away games and the best running back coming into Mackay when San Jose State comes to town, there are bound to be struggles.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at Sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.