New Mexico vs. Fresno State: Three Keys to a Bulldogs Win
What can the Bulldogs do to beat the Lobos on homecoming night?
The Lobos and Bulldogs have both had strong starts to conference play. Here’s how the home team can maintain momentum.
WEEK 7: New Mexico Lobos (3-2, 1-1 Mountain West) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (3-2, 2-0 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, October 14 — 7:00 PM PT
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, California (41,031)
TV: AT&T Sportsnet/ROOT Sports
RADIO: The broadcast can be found in and around Fresno on the Central Valley’s local ESPN Radio affiliates: 940 (in English) and 1600 (in Spanish) AM. The Lobos broadcast can be heard on KKBO, 770 AM, in and around Albuquerque.
SERIES RECORD: The Bulldogs currently hold a 11-4 advantage in the series. In their last meeting on September 26, 2014, Fresno State won 35-24 at New Mexico.
Things have changed quite a bit since the last time New Mexico and Fresno State faced off. The Lobos have developed one of the most wildly entertaining offenses in college, while the Bulldogs went through a rapid collapse and seeming resurrection.
Funny how things change, isn’t it? When they take the field on Saturday night, the margin between both squads will be much narrower than in years past. Bob Davie’s Lobos have shown they can win with the explosive attack that earned them nine wins last fall or with defense and special teams, while Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs have created turnovers on defense and let a mostly balanced offense lead them to two straight conference wins.
As both teams have bowl aspirations, this will be a critical game for each. Here’s how the Bulldogs can hold serve at home.
Three Keys for Fresno State
Can the offense put together long drives? The Bulldogs have often benefited from great field position — their average drive has begun at the 35-yard line, 7th nationally — but they might not have that luxury on Saturday night: Jason Sanders, the Lobos kicker, has an 81% touchback rate and New Mexico is first nationally in Kickoff Success Rate.
If they begin many of their drives at or around the 25-yard line, it’s worth noting that Fresno State has just three scoring drives of 73 or more yards against FBS opponents. And if they’re forced to move the chains on third downs, they’ll have to improve on a 32.8% conversion rate which ranks 10th in the Mountain West.
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion will probably have a significant hand in this. For all of his successes so far, he’s just 9-of-23 on third down and has just three first down throws.
Can the defense slow down the New Mexico running game? For all of the success that Fresno State has had so far, the one statistic that will certainly be challenged this weekend is 3.52, the number of yards per carry that the Bulldogs have allowed to opponents so far. San Jose State, for all of its offensive woes, still found a way to help Tyler Nevens to a 4.71 YPC effort last Saturday, and the Lobos’ own attack has averaged 7.01 YPC in their wins over Tulsa and Air Force.
In other words, the New Mexico running game is looking as potent as it was last year. Chances are the game will turn on how often the Bulldogs can win on first down: UNM has averaged 6.68 yards per carry on first downs (which has fueled their #26 ranking in Rushing Success Rate), while Fresno State has allowed 5.28 YPC (and ranks 106th on defense in Rushing Success Rate).
Can the secondary avoid giving up big plays? For as rough as things have been for the Bulldogs defense on first down, they’ve had remarkable success when turning the tide in their favor. Most notably, while their Rushing Success rate ranks in the triple digits, the Bulldogs’ defensive Passing Down Success Rate — second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, or fourth-and-5 or more — currently ranks second.
The Lobos, of course, don’t employ a traditional passing attack, but it hasn’t stopped them from generating chunk plays through the air: Lamar Jordan has eight passes of 20-plus yards in 47 attempts, a 17% rate, while Marcus McMaryion has 11 in 88 attempts (12.5%). Bulldogs cornerbacks Johnny Johnson and Jaron Bryant have shown they can make quarterbacks pay for mistakes, but they’ll need to stay disciplined and probably make open-field tackles against New Mexico’s trio of big-play receivers.