Mountain West football round-up Week 10 West Division
After a game-saving block and a touchdown to cap a big win, Fresno State remains on top of the Mountain West after a wild week of action.
The Bulldogs were one of the several conference teams that prevailed in a one-possession win, and Fresno continues to have BCS hopes with an undefeated season. UNLV and San Jose State were two of the other teams in the West smiling after Saturday, while San Diego State, Nevada and Hawai'i - Utah State's opponent this week - suffered narrow defeats.
We'll kick off this notebook with news from the Rainbow Warriors, including an update on their fickle quarterback situation. Looks like the Aggies will have to be ready for at least two passers.
Click here for notes from the Mountain Division.
After another one-possession loss, this time to Colorado State, the Rainbow Warriors are 0-7 for the first time since the 0-12 season in 1998. They are one of five winless FBS teams this season.
Against CSU, the Warriors imploded early when wideout Chris Gant soared for what appeared to be a touchdown grab only to have the possession stolen during the landing. CSU then drove for a touchdown. On UH's ensuing possession, quarterback Sean Schroeder fumbled on a sack. CSU's scoop-and-dash touchdown made it 14-0.
Head coach Norm Chow said quarterback Taylor Graham would have an expanded role for Saturday's road game against Utah State. Graham was 3 of 7 for 37 yards this past weekend. It was the first game he played since suffering an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder on Sept. 28. Graham had started UH's first three games.
Chow said Graham or Schroeder, who has thrown for more than 320 yards in each of the past four games, will start. Ikaika Woolsey is considered to be the wildcat and not an every-down quarterback.
The Warriors also are seeking to improve their tackling. They missed 20 tackles against CSU, and have averaged 19.25 missed tackles the past four games. They averaged 9.0 missed tackles in the first three games.
Safety Marrell Jackson, who missed the past game after undergoing thumb surgery, is expected to start against Utah State.
Next game: at Utah State, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: The Warriors depart Thursday afternoon for a two-game, 10-day trip. They play Utah State this Saturday, remain on the mainland, and then play Navy on Nov. 9. The Warriors will tour Washington D.C. during the Navy trip. They could not arrange a visit with a former Hawaii resident who lives in a white house.
- Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Fresno State has won four games by seven points or fewer, beating Rutgers 52-51 in overtime, Boise State 41-40, Hawaii 42-37 and on Saturday San Diego State 35-28 in overtime.
To get that last one, against the Aztecs, they had to block a last-second field goal at the end of regulation and went back to three players that had played key roles in 2011 when they had blocked 10 kicks in tight end Marcel Jensen, guard Cody Wichmann and tackle Austin Wentworth.
With a new staff, new approach and new scheme, none of the three had been used on field-goal block this or last season. But they had been bugging the Bulldogs' coaches about getting an opportunity for the past 18 months, when coach Tim DeRuyter and his staff came in.
And as the Aztecs were driving to set up their attempt, Wichmann had looked at Wentworth and Wentworth had looked at Wichmann, and said, they're going to have to kick a field goal.
"We knew exactly what to do,'' Wichmann said.
They strapped on their helmets and tried to be as conspicuous as possible, which in the heat of the moment and with everything at stake, was not as easy as it might sound even for offensive linemen that go 6-6 and 311 pounds and 6-5 and 306 pounds. Jensen, the 6-6, 270-pound tight end, joined them. "We were all standing there on the sideline and me and Cody and Austin, we just kind of grouped up and said, 'Let's see if they'll let us do it,' " Jensen said.
"We were trying to talk to Coach (Pete) Germano for quite a while and we were on very thin ice,'' Wichmann said. ''They obviously were focusing on the drive that was at hand.''
Germano happened to turn around. "I'm watching the play and the play is over with and all three of those guys are standing right there waiting for an opportunity but not wanting to interrupt me and I looked at them and they said to me, 'If you want us, we're ready to do it,' " he said.
Fresno State needed a jumper because safety Derron Smith, who usually fills that role, got dinged on that last drive and had to come out of the game. Jensen had his spot.
The two linemen were not going to be left out. "I saw Coach (Jordan) Peterson come up and grab Marcel and he's like, 'Marcel, we need you on this field-goal block' and I was like, 'Wait, wait, wait a second, you have to take me and Austin in there with him,' " Wichmann said.
Seamus McMorrow, who had not attempted a field goal before the Fresno State game, went out there with 3 seconds remaining and hit the ball.
The middle of the line cratered the Aztecs' front, allowing Jensen to not only see the snap and McMorrow move to the ball, but to inch closer and time his jump.
He got it. ''Maybe three, three fingers,'' Jensen said.
But that was not the end of it.
"I heard it hit his hands and I was looking for it to go left or right, but it kept going and I thought, 'Oh, no, this thing is going to land on the crossbar and fall in,' " DeRuyter said.
But the kick fell short, the game went into overtime and the Bulldogs won it there.
Next game: vs. Nevada, 8:30 p.m. MT (ESPNU)
Notable: Fresno State could have to make some schematic changes defensively after losing cornerback L.J. Jones with a left leg injury in the victory at San Diego State. The Bulldogs are not deep in the secondary, and for a while at least (Jones is to have an MRI on Tuesday) will be without both cornerback starters from a year ago with Sean Alston already out for the year. JC transfer Curtis Riley and redshirt freshman Jamal Ellis are expected to start against Nevada. "What we have to do is do a good job teaching them their fundamentals so they can rely on it so that they don't question their ability, and then you have to go out there and actually do it,'' DeRuyter said. "That's the deal with it. You have to not just know it, you have to experience it. We're going to be getting them a bunch of experience in the next couple weeks so they feel comfortable.
"I'd like to be able to just get them up to speed, but obviously you get into a situation you may have to change things schematically and we'll do that.'' ... The Bulldogs' Davante Adams caught two more touchdown passes in the victory at San Diego State, bringing his career total to a school-record 27 in just 20 games. He is third in the all-time Mountain West list and just three away from the record held by Austin Collie (Brigham Young), who is followed by Jovon Bouknight (Wyoming). Collie played in 36 games, Bouknight in 47.
- Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
Coach Brian Polian still had his sense of humor following the 27-22 loss to UNLV on Saturday - the Rebels' first win in the series since 2004, a span of eight games - when he addressed his weekly luncheon crowd Monday.
It was the team's third straight loss, it dropped its record to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the Mountain West, and it cost Nevada possession of the Fremont Cannon, the rivalry's 545-pound trophy.
And as he walked off the field after finishing his weekly post-game TV show about an hour after the game, a few fans let him have it.
"I was walking off the field ... and we're getting the 'Fire Polian' chants, and when that happens I'm usually looking for my dad," Polian said, referring to Bill Polian, who was the general manager of three NFL franchises. " 'Geez, Dad, they're (peeved) at you.' And that's OK. That comes with the job. I'm prepared for that."
The discrepancy in penalties - UNLV, three for 35 yards, and Nevada, 13 for 105 - was a major topic of conversation during the luncheon, mostly because fans asked a few questions about them, and while Polian said he sent a few video clips into the MWC office for clarity, he also said the penalties his team committed cost them the game, not anything the officials might have missed.
"It's a game we could have won. I'm not going to say should have won," he said. "... More games are lost than are won in college football. And I feel we lost the San Diego State game (a 51-44 overtime loss on Oct. 4), and I feel like we lost the UNLV game as opposed to just being outplayed by a better opponent."
Next game: at Fresno State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPNU)
Notable: The Wolf Pack picked up a verbal commitment from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly defensive back Elijah Moody on Sunday; Moody is expected to be a safety. ... The Wolf Pack are expected to be at full strength for the Fresno State game, aside from two players who are lost for the season, starting tight end Kolby Arendse and backup quarterback Devin Combs. ... Fresno State is coming off of a 35-28 overtime win at San Diego State in which the Aztecs had a 37-yard field-goal attempt blocked in the final seconds of regulation. Polian said his defensive front has played well the last two games, and he thinks it might have a matchup advantage on Saturday. "I do think we can make some hay with our defensive front against their offensive line, and that's what San Diego State did," he said. "They hit Carr. They got after him. They got physical with him. And they made the ball come out a little bit quicker than he's used to."
- Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
San Diego State
It's never fair to pin an entire game on the kicker's shoulders because, as most football coaches will tell you, dozens of plays led to the moment in which a kicker was called upon to make a game-winning field goal.
Still, San Diego State (3-4 overall, 2-1 Mountain West) could have beaten Fresno State in regulation if sophomore placekicker Seamus McMorrow had made either one of the two failed field goals he attempted Saturday night.
McMorrow missed a 40-yarder in the first quarter, which prompted the question: Why did the Aztecs send him out again late in the fourth for a second field-goal attempt with the game tied at 28-28?
More than 40 seconds remained on the clock after Adam Muema's crucial fourth-down conversion that gave SDSU first-and-10 at Fresno State's 24.
Wouldn't it have made more sense to go for a touchdown?
"Seamus had made four extra points, and it would have been a short field goal," Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. "And a few minutes before that, he'd made that onside kick. I figured he was hot."
But McMorrow's 37-yard attempt was blocked, and the Bulldogs' ensuing overtime win reemphasized the fact that the Aztecs' kicking issues have now cost them a game.
Collectively, McMorrow and senior Wes Feer are 16-of-19 on PATs and 8-of-13 on field goals.
They've missed five in a row, and haven't nailed a successful field goal since Feer converted a 25-yard attempt on Sept. 28 against New Mexico State.
Still, there doesn't seem to be much SDSU can do about the iffy kicking situation.
"We'll have Seamus and Wes compete in practice again this week," Long said. "We'll keep working with them and hope they get better."
Next game: vs. New Mexico, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports/MW Digital Network)
Notable: Backup QB Adam Dingwell watched the Aztecs' defeat to Fresno State from the stands at Qualcomm Stadium. Rocky Long said afterward that Dingwell is in good standing and is back with the team at practice. But he's no longer the de facto backup QB.
- Stefanie Loh, UT San Diego
San Jose State
David Fales' best game as a Spartan earned him plenty of recognition. He was named the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight game on the heels of his 482-yard, six-touchdown, no-turnover performance in a 51-44 win over Wyoming.
He also earned several national honors, including National Performer of the Week and Quarterback Performer of the Week from College Football Performance Awards. He was named a Manning Award Star of the Week, an honorable mention Quarterback of the Week by the Davey O'Brien Award and a Senior Bowl Player of the Week.
Fales' coach is impressed by how his quarterback has handled all the extra expectations this season.
"When you're a guy in the spotlight - the quarterback position comes with that territory - you've got to block out the noise," said coach Ron Caragher, a former UCLA backup quarterback.
The noise this week is a game that didn't look like anything special a month ago but now is a key battle in the MW's West Division. SJSU (4-3, 3-1 MW) faces surging UNLV (5-3, 3-1) in a battle for second place.
For the Spartans, the game represents the opportunity to stay on the heels of first-place Fresno State. SJSU would like to remain no worse than a game back of the Bulldogs prior to the Nov. 29 showdown in Spartan Stadium to close the regular season.
Next game: at UNLV, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: Fales did not practice Tuesday due to an illness, but his status for Saturday's game is not in question. Caragher expects him to practice Wednesday. ... WR Jabari Carr returned in the Wyoming game, but participated only on special teams. ... True freshman DT Keenan Sykes made his debut against Wyoming, with the coaching staff deciding to pull him from his redshirt year. He's now the listed starter for Saturday's game against UNLV, replacing Tony Popovich, who is out with a shoulder injury.
- Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
UNLV celebrated the return of the Fremont Cannon after eight long years of losses to upstate rival Nevada.
The Rebels won back the series trophy Saturday with a 27-22 victory over the Wolf Pack.
UNLV players led the cannon, the nation's largest and most expensive trophy, through campus Monday, and a crowd of about 300 watched as coach Bobby Hauck and the senior players painted it red. The previously blue cannon is valued at about $10,000.
"Seeing the reaction coming from the students here on campus, it's definitely a good sign," quarterback Caleb Herring said. "It's good for us to be around this type of thing and know that people are behind us. A lot of the students have never seen the cannon in person, so it's a really exciting atmosphere right now."
The Rebels (5-3, 3-1 Mountain West) still have some goals, such as becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2000.
They would qualify for the postseason with a victory over San Jose State (4-3, 3-1) at home Saturday.
Hauck said he wasn't concerned about his team not being properly focused, saying that was part of the reason for Monday's celebration.
"I think doing this probably helps you (move forward) because there's something we did to kind of put it to rest," Hauck said. "Rather than sitting around talking about it all week, we can say, 'Hey, we did that. ... Now it's time to go on to the next one.' "
Next game: vs. San Jose State, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: UNLV is the nation's fourth-most improved team, going 1-8 last season at this point compared to 5-3 this year. Auburn is first nationally, having gone from 1-7 to 7-1. ... The Rebels are 5-3 for the first time since 1994. ... UNLV has won multiple road games in a season for the first time since 2003, when the Rebels went 4-2 away from home. They are 2-2 on the road this season. ... Devante Davis has 10 touchdown catches, just one short of the school single-season record. Sam Greene caught 11 TD passes in 1980.
- Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal