3 keys to beating the Bulldogs
LARAMIE -- Kalen DeBoer has been to Laramie before.
When Eastern Michigan visited War Memorial Stadium in 2015, he was the offensive coordinator. Two years later, he was on Fresno State's staff, serving in that same role.
You know what else was the same? The outcomes.
DeBoer, who is in his second year as the head Bulldog, will bring his team to the high plains once again this Saturday. Wyoming is a far cry from the scene of Fresno State's last outing, which came on the tropical islands of Hawaii against the Rainbow Warriors.
You know what else was different? The outcome.
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener tossed four interceptions, including one deep in Hawaii territory on the final drive of the game, and the 'Bows came away with the 27-24 victory. That was the 'Dogs first loss in Mountain West play. It also knocked them out of the Top 25.
Despite that setback, Fresno State still features one of the most dangerous offenses in college football.
Haener, who spent the bye week with a walking boot on his right foot after suffering a sprain in Hawaii, is in the Top 10 in six statistical categories. Jalen Cropper is flirting with Davante Adams' numbers as the wide out spot, and Ronnie Rivers' 48 career touchdowns are actively the most in the sport.
Here are a few keys to a Cowboy victory Saturday:
Bring the heat
Jake Heaner loves to fire the football around the field.
Nine times out of 10, that's a good thing for the Fresno State offense. However, his right arm has also gotten him in some trouble.
Think Josh Allen.
No, Heaner doesn't possess the rocket Allen does, but he sure thinks he does at times.
Against Hawaii, three of Haener's season-high four interceptions was a result of trying to fit the ball in a tight window. The Bows' secondary slammed the door shut, stepping in front of each of those darts. The fourth pick -- one that derailed the 'Dogs hopes of a late comeback on the islands -- was a result of leading his receiver too far out of his break. The ball skipped off his hands and right into the awaiting arms of Hawaii's Hugh Nelson.
"They made plays," Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer said of Hawaii. "... You have to give a little bit of credit to the other team for the plays they made."
The Warriors utilized mainly a three-man front, rarely blitzing Haener. Instead, they dropped eight into coverage and took their chances.
Haener completed just 28-of-50 throws but did amass 388 yards through the air to go along with three touchdown passes in the loss.
One of the rare times the 'Bows did bring some heat, Haener was strip sacked.
So, what does this mean for the Cowboys?
"We need to get press pressure on Haener and we need to get him moving around," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. "So, that's going to mean we'll bring a (line) backer occasionally -- we'll blitz some -- but we've got to do it with four men. Those guys up front -- not only the inside guys, but the flank guys -- have got to get some pressure for us."
Paging Garrett Crall, Solomon Byrd, Ravontae Holt and Cole Godbout.
Those four, as well as their backups, have to get pressure. It's been done before. Haener has been sacked 10 times in six games. Four of those happened in a 31-24 road loss at Oregon in Week 2.
Sacks are always nice -- Wyoming has 14 quarterback takedowns, which is good enough for No. 33 in the nation -- but getting Haener off his mark will be key. That, coupled with his would-be heroics, could land the Bulldogs in hot water on a chilly afternoon in Laramie.
Back to their roots
Fresno State is holding its opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry and 129 rushing yards per outing.
Wyoming needs to change those numbers Saturday by getting back to its roots.
Xazavian Valladay, the Mountain West's back-to-back rushing champ, carried the ball just eight times last week at Air Force. That's unacceptable. The Falcons' offense more so than their defense, limited possessions and forced Sean Chambers to go to the air. He attempted 28 passes. That's a career high.
That's not necessarily a winning recipe for this team.
The Cowboys have to get things going on the ground. The numbers show they can, too. Take away the fact that Fresno State held UConn to just 35 rushing yards and Cal Poly to 53, and instead focus on the last two outings. Hawaii rolled up 232 yards on the ground. UNLV finished with 152.
One was a loss. The other, an eight-point escape job at home against the winless Rebels. The Bulldogs gave up nearly five yards per carry in those games.
"He gets downhill," Fresno State defensive coordinator William Inge said of Valladay. "Often, he's rarely going downhill by himself. Usually he's got a big fullback, No. 36 (Caleb Driskill), in front of him and is trying to break someone's face mask."
Valladay needs to have a big outing, but the same can be said of Titus Swen.
The sophomore from Fort Worth is averaging nearly five yards per carry this fall. The problem? He's had the ball in his hands just 44 times. In Colorado Springs, Swen finished with five carries for 21 yards.
That's simply not enough.
With Fresno State's high-flying offense, the Cowboys should have plenty of offensive opportunities Saturday. Maybe it's them who can turn the tables and milk the game clock, limiting the Bulldogs' possessions.
Dam the Rivers
Over the bye week, Fresno State's coaching staff made some changes up front. They didn't like the "attitude" the team was taking when it comes to running the football.
"We need to commit to it physically," Fresno State's offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. "I do think there's a demeanor piece that upfront the tight ends and the O-line need to answer the bell."
Ronnie Rivers has eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground just one time this season. That came in a 40-37 win over No. 13 UCLA in the Rose Bowl. He gashed the Bruins for 136 yards on just 21 carries.
That's what Rivers can do.
Aside from that outing, however, the Bulldogs' back is averaging less than 57 yards per game on the ground. More concerning, he's getting the ball in his belly an average of 14 times per game.
Jordan Mims, the speedy change-of-pace back, has just 18 total carries for 106 yards.
Balance, DeBoer said, is the key with this offense.
That's hard to accomplish -- or even attempt -- when you have Haener under center. He has the third-most passing yards in the nation with 2,230. He's tossed 18 touchdowns.
If it isn't broke, why fix it?
The Bulldogs may need to rely on it one day, that's why.
"Balance, to me, is the ability to be able to run the football when you need to and when a team forces you to do that," DeBoer said. "That's where we're under under par right now. We're not where we need to be."
Wyoming allowed Air Force to run for 211 yards last Saturday in Colorado Springs. That's not as bad as it sounds. The Falcons, who feature the top rushing attack in the nation, were held to nearly 160 yards under their season average.
If the Bulldogs can make hay on the ground, something it sounds like they will attempt to do, Cropper and Co. could have a field day when the visitors do decide to put it in the air. DeBoer says Haener will be 100% by game time, but the junior is also dealing with a lingering hip issue. If the team would've played last weekend, it's not exactly clear if Haener would've been under center.
He definitely wouldn't have been fully healthy, DeBoer added.
That could be another underlying reason that the Bulldogs picked this week to try and get their running game on track.
If the Cowboys can make Fresno State one dimensional, you have to like the chances of Byrd, Crall and the boys up front to make life a tad uncomfortable for the signal caller. You can also add CJ Coldon and Azizi Hearn to that list.
UW's secondary could benefit. Just ask Hawaii.