RADIO: KMJ (AM 580); Bulldog Live (10:30 a.m.), Countdown to Kickoff (12 p.m.) | Play-by-Play: Paul Loeffler; Analyst:Jordan Christensen; Sideline: Ralph Wood
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The Fresno State Bulldogs are playing for the Mountain West championship this weekend when the Bulldogs host Air Force on Military Appreciate Day at Bulldog Stadium ... Saturday's kickoff between the Falcons and Bulldogs is set for 12:30 p.m. ... With a win, Fresno State will capture its first conference title since 1999 ... The game is being televised by the NBC Sports Network with Todd Harris (play-by-play) and Anthony Herron (analyst) calling the game ... Fans can listen to the Mountain West league game on the radio at KMJ 580 AM with the Bulldog Sports Network team of Paul Loeffler (play-by-play), Jordan Christensen (analyst) and Ralph Wood (sideline reporter). Bulldog Live begins at 10:30 a.m. and the pregame show starts at 12 p.m. ... Head coach Tim DeRuyter is set to face his alma mater on Saturday. DeRuyter was also the defensive coordinator under current Falcon head coach Troy Calhoun at the Academy from 2007-09 ... Fresno State is honoring 22 seniors on Saturday, as the senior class is playing their last game at Bulldog Stadium. This senior class has gone 16-7 at home over the last four years, including a 5-0 mark at home this season when the 'Dogs have won the five home games by an average margin of 31.4 points ... Fresno State is one of just two teams in the bowl subdivision to have a player ranked in the top 20 in total rushing yards, total passing yards and total receiving yards.
Fresno State enters the game riding a four-game winning streak and it has won six out of its last seven games overall.
The Bulldogs lead the Mountain West and rank 15th nationally in scoring with 39.5 points per game and have averaged 47 points in their last four games.
The Hunt for the Championship
Fresno State is playing Saturday for the Mountain West championship. With a win, the Bulldogs will claim the MW crown in its first season in the league and first season under head coach Tim DeRuyter. The MW does not break ties in the standings, all are considered champions (co- or tri-) if tied atop the league standings. It would be Fresno State's 26th conference title in program history, but the first since tying for the WAC championship back in 1999. The previous time Fresno State entered a new conference (WAC in 1992), the Bulldogs also won a share of that league title in its first season in the conference.
DeRuyter has the Bulldogs on a roll entering the game. Fresno State has won four-straight for the first time since 2009 (when the 'Dogs reeled off five consecutive wins) and the Bulldogs have won six of their past seven games overall. With eight wins already in his first season, DeRuyter has tied Clark Van Galder (1952) for the most wins by a first-year Bulldog coach. That also ranks fourth for the most wins ever by a first-year coach in Mountain West history. DeRuyter is just the third coach of the Bulldogs in the last 33 years, and in that time, this is the 19th season Fresno State has won eight or more games.
Fresno State vs. Air Force - The Series
Saturday's game will be just the seventh all-time meeting between Air Force and Fresno State. The Falcons lead the all-time series 4-2 with the last game played between the schools in the 2000 Silicon Valley Football Classic in San Jose. Air Force won that bowl game 37-34, which was played on New Year's Eve. From 1993-97, both schools were Western Athletic Conference members and Air Force won three of the five league games. Fresno State is 1-2 all-time at home against the Falcons, as the 'Dogs won the first ever meeting between the two schools 33-20 on Oct. 16, 1993 in Bulldog Stadium. Fresno State's last win over Air Force was on Oct. 18, 1997, when the 'Dogs pulled off a 20-17 victory over the Falcons on the road.
Scouting Air Force
Air Force started out the season going 2-2, beating Idaho State in the opener and Colorado State on Sept. 29. The Falcons lost 31-25 at No. 19 Michigan on Sept. 8 and at UNLV on Sept. 22. After the 2-2 start, the Falcons went on a three-game winning streak to improve to 4-1 in the Mountain West and a tie for first place in the league. However, after the 48-31 win at Nevada on Oct. 26 that capped off the three-game winning streak, Air Force dropped its next two games to fall to 5-5 overall on the year and 4-2 in MW play. The first loss was a 41-21 setback at Army and then on Oct. 10 the Falcons fell 28-9 at San Diego State. Last weekend, the Falcons defeated Hawai'i at home and they enter tonight's game with a 6-5 overall record and 5-2 mark in the Mountain West.
For the second time this season, Robbie Rouse claimed Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors. It comes after Mighty Rouse's best game of the season, as he ran 36 times for 261 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolf Pack back on Nov. 10. Rouse set his ninth school record in that game, as it was his third 200-yard rushing game that moved him ahead of Ryan Mathews for the most 200-yard games in school history. It was also Rouse's second 200-yard rushing game against Nevada in his storied career.
Rouse now has 37 career rushing touchdowns and 42 total touchdowns. He needs to find the end zone two more times to tie the school mark for both records. In his career, Rouse has 12 career games with two rushing touchdowns, but never three. With 252 career points, Rouse is 14 points away from tying Anthony Daigle's school record for the most points scored by any player that is not a kicker. In the win over Nevada, Rouse went over 5,000 all-purpose yards. He joined former Bulldog receiver and returner Bernard Berrian as the only players in school history with to gain over 5,000 all-purpose yards. Berrian racked up 5,826 yards from 1999-03 and Rouse is now at 5,253 for his career.
Fresno State has made quite the remarkable turnover turnaround this year. After tying for dead last in the nation in 2011 with a mere nine take-aways, Fresno State this year is tied for fourth nationally with 30 turnovers gained. The Bulldogs are the only team in the nation since 2000 that had under 10 take-aways one year, but bounced back the next season to have 30 or more turnovers gained. Below is a look at the biggest turnover turnarounds across the nation since 2000.
The Bulldogs got to 30 in their last game at Nevada on Nov. 10 when they had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. It was Fresno State's sixth game this year where it has forced three or more turnovers. The Bulldogs have at least one take-away in all 11 games and two or more in nine games. Fresno State ranks third nationally with 19 interceptions, picking off a pass in nine-straight games, and the 'Dogs' 30 turnovers gained is tied for fourth nationally.
This Valley Trio is For Real
For the second-straight season and just the third time in school history, Fresno State has a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season. Quarterback Derek Carr has thrown for 3,290 yards, running back Robbie Rouse has rushed for 1,362 yards and wide receiver Davante Adams has 1,027 yards. Fresno State and Louisiana Tech are the only teams in the nation that has a player rank in the top 20 nationally in total rushing yards, total passing yards and total receiving yards. Rouse ranks 11th nationally in total rushing yardage, Carr is 12th and Adams is 17th. This is the 11th time in Mountain West history that a team has had a tandem reach 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.
Bulldogs Have Perfected the Pick-6, Add Strip-6 to Repertoire
Fresno State six interceptions returned for touchdowns this year is tied with SMU for the most in the nation. In the Bulldogs' last game on Nov. 10 at Nevada, Fresno State's defense was able to find another way to find the end zone. The Bulldogs recovered two fumbles for touchdowns. The first was when Tyeler Davison recovered a fumble after a Donovan Lewis sack in the end zone. The second then came when Travis Brown stripped Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson of the ball, had it bounce off the ground right into his arms and he brought it back 26 yards to the house.
► Fresno State's six pick-sixes have set new school and Mountain West records.
► Fresno State's eight total defensive touchdowns this season are the second most in the country, one behind SMU's nine (six pick-sixes, three fumble recoveries for TDs).
Carr Aims to Bring Fresno State a Championship Derek Carr is putting up some of the best numbers that any Fresno State quarterback has in a single-season. His 32 touchdown passes are the second-most in school history, his 3,290 passing yards ranks fifth in the Bulldog record books, his 425 attempts are third and his 283 completions are second. Carr has completed 66.6 percent of his passes this year and his 64.6 career completion percentage is the highest in program history.
With all those numbers, Carr now has the opportunity to bring Fresno State is first conference championship since 1999. A true measure of a quarterback can be how many games they win, and the most important wins, especially this year for Fresno State, come in the month of November. In six November games, Carr has averaged 292 yards passing, completed 66.2 percent of his passes and has 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
Star Safety Tandem
Fresno State safeties Phillip Thomas and Derron Smith have combined to intercept 14 passes this year. The two players have more interceptions between them than 96 other bowl subdivision teams have this year. Thomas' eight picks are two more than any other player in the nation and Smith's six are tied for the second most in the nation. Between the two they have returned four picks for touchdowns - Thomas has three and Smith has one - and have 227 yards in returns. It's not just picking off passes where the Bulldog safeties are excelling because they are the top two tacklers on the team (Thomas has 73, Smith has 69). Thomas' 10.5 tackles for a loss leads the Bulldogs and is tied for the fourth most in the Mountain West.
Last Time Playing for a Conference Championship Billy Volek passed for five touchdowns and Josh Levi scored on a school-record 94-yard run as Fresno State routed San Jose State 63-12 on Nov. 20, 1999 to clinch a share of the Western Athletic Conference title. With the win, Fresno State earned a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl, which the Bulldogs will have a shot at playing in again this year. The Las Vegas Bowl has the first selection of Mountain West bowl-eligible teams and will pit the MW team it chooses up against a Pac-12 school for the game that is to be played on Dec. 22 this year.
22 Seniors to Play Final Home Game
Fresno State will honor 22 seniors on Saturday who will be playing their final home game in Bulldog Stadium. This group of seniors has led Fresno State to a 16-7 record at home over the last four years and 28 wins overall since 2009. The senior class will get to play in its third bowl game this season, as Fresno State went to the New Mexico Bowl in 2009 and the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl in 2010.
Travis Brown Earns Third Career Player of the Week Honor
Senior linebacker Travis Brown, a Fresno native, enters his final home game in a Bulldog uniform on a high note. Brown was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week following the Nevada game on Nov. 10. In the win, he tied his season-high with nine tackles, created one of Fresno State's four take-aways in the game and scored one of three defensive touchdowns for the Bulldogs. With 8:45 to go in the third quarter, Brown stopped Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson for a one-yard gain and stripped Jefferson of the football. The ball bounced right up into his arms and he dashed 26 yards for the touchdown. The Bulldogs forced Nevada into turnovers on each of its first three possessions of the second half, helping to break a 21-21 halftime time and Brown's forced fumble and return for a touchdown was the third turnover forced in that sequence. Eight of Brown's nine tackles were solo efforts and he also had one pass breakup in the game. For his career, Brown has 244 tackles, 21.0 tackles for a loss and six sacks.
Fresno State has scored 40 or more points in four straight games now and is averaging 47 points and 493.5 yards of offense in that time. This is the first time since 2004 that the Bulldogs have put up 40 or more points in four-straight games. In 2004, Fresno State actually scored 40 or more in five-straight games. The program record for the most 40-point games is a season is the eight the 1992 team recorded. Fresno State this year has scored 40 or more points six times and the Bulldogs lead the Mountain West and rank 15th nationally by averaging 39.5 points per game.
Love for the O-Line
The driving force behind Fresno State's high-octane offense has been a solid offensive line. Fresno State is averaging 6.2 yards per play this year and ranks 22nd nationally with 478.1 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs have allowed 21 sacks this season in 852 plays (446 pass attempts). Seniors Matt Hunt and Richard Helepiko along with junior Austin Wentworth and sophomore Cody Wichmann have all played in every game this season. Then over the last three games, true freshman Alex Fifita has stepped in at right tackle and the unit has not skipped a beat. In the last three games with this offensive line combo, the Bulldogs have averaged 48.7 points and 526.7 yards of offense.
Motta Stepping Up Into Role
Junior defensive end Nikko Motta's two sacks at Nevada on Nov. 10 tied the season-high by a Bulldog. The other time a Bulldog had two sacks in a game this season was on Sept. 29 when Andy Jennings posted two sacks in a 52-40 win over the Aztecs. Motta has seen a lot of action all year and has started each of the last five games for the Bulldogs. In his time as a starter, Motta has 4.0 tackles for a loss, three sacks, one quarterback hurry and one fumble recovery.
Outside linebacker Donovan Lewis had three tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and forced one fumble in the win at Nevada in Fresno State's last game. For the year, he has 27 tackles, 7.0 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Fresno State continues to lead the Mountain West in sacks with 32, which is tied for the 11th-most in the country. 19 different Bulldogs have shared in on a sack this season.
The Bulldogs have had 18 different players score a touchdown this season. That is tied for the most from any one team in the FBS.
The 'Dogs received seven points in this week's Associated Press Top 25 Poll and three points in the USA Today Top 25 poll.
Junior wide receiver Isaiah Burse needs one more catch for 100 in his career. He would become the third member of the team to have over 100 career receptions, joining Rashad Evans (131) and Robbie Rouse (101). Burse has 1,230 receiving yards and eight touchdowns off his 99 career receptions.
Fresno State has 19 interceptions this year is the fourth-most in Mountain West history. TCU set the record in 2005 with 24 picks, BYU had 21 in 2001 and Air Force recorded 20 in 2009. Current Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter was the defensive coordinator for Air Force that season. DeRuyter's defense's over the past decade have posted some impressive numbers sacking the quarterback, picking off passes and creating take-aways.