Mountain West football round-up Week 12 West Division
Nationally the talk will center on Fresno State in the West Division. Rightfully so, given the Bulldogs look like they still could go bowling in the BCS.
But the real action is just beneath the surface: UNLV, San Jose State and San Diego State could all be bowl eligible with one more win. That tantalizing last victory is hanging so close, and those three are scrambling for bowl spots. Meanwhile, Nevada and Hawaii are still struggling at the bottom.
Check out the West notebook, written by beat writers from around the Mountain West. You can read the Mountain Division notes, leading off with Boise State, here.
Fresno State moved up to No. 14 in the BCS standings after its road win at Wyoming, and its polling history had coach Tim DeRuyter a bit curious where the Bulldogs would be ranked this week after not playing.
"I'm looking forward to the bye this week. The last time we had a bye I think we moved up three spots," DeRuyter joked. "I'm looking forward to next Sunday to see where we're going to be."
The Bulldogs actually moved up four spots in the Associated Press Top 25 in Week Eight, after not playing the previous weekend. They could move up in the BCS standings and if they keep winning could get into the Top 12 and nab an automatic berth into the first BCS bowl in school history considering the seven teams directly ahead all have at least one loss and six still play at least one game against an opponent ranked in the Top 12 in the BCS standings over the next three weeks.
No. 13 UCLA is 7-2 and has games remaining against Washington, No. 19 Arizona State and USC. No. 12 Oklahoma State is 8-1 and has games remaining at No. 24 Texas and against No. 5 Baylor and No. 18 Oklahoma.
No. 11 Texas A&M is 8-2 and still has to play No. 21 Louisiana State and No. 9 Missouri. No. 10 South Carolina is 7-2 with games against Florida, Coastal Carolina and No. 8 Clemson.
No. 9 Missouri is 9-1 and leading the East Division of the Southeastern Conference, but still has to play at Mississippi and ends the regular season against No. 11 Texas A&M. No. 8 Clemson is 8-1 and closes with Georgia Tech, Citadel and No. 10 South Carolina.
And No. 7 Auburn is 9-1, but still has games against No. 25 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama to end the season.
Next game: Nov. 23 vs. New Mexico
Notable: Coming into this season there had been only 21 games in Fresno State history in which it had a receiver catch 10 or more passes - that covers 976 football games and a lot of top-flight receivers including Henry Ellard, Rodney Wright, Bernard Berrian and Larry Willis. In nine games this season, the Bulldogs have had a receiver catch 10 or more passes 10 times, with Davante Adams, Josh Harper and Isaiah Burse all doing it in the opener against Rutgers. Here is the breakdown: Adams - Rutgers (14 for 148), Boise State (12 for 110), Idaho (16 for 185), San Diego State (12 for 87), Wyoming (11 for 79); Burse - Rutgers (13 for 118), Boise State (10 for 148), San Diego State (10 for 74); Harper - Rutgers (14 for 94), Nevada (17 for 253). ... The Bulldogs' trio of receivers has caught 220 passes this season - only 21 Bowl Subdivision teams have more completed passes. ... Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith obviously was a concern for the Bulldogs' defense. He was eighth in the FBS in total offense, averaging 349.8 yards per game. "You can do everything right in the secondary covering everybody and he can still hurt you," free safety Derron Smith said. "He can break it for eight, nine, 10 yards even if you have everything covered, so it's going to be on us as a whole defense to stop him and that offense." But Fresno State held Smith to just 141 passing yards and 12 rushing yards, his fewest total yards in a game since the last time he ran into the Bulldogs in a 42-14 loss on Oct. 20, 2012, and was held to 158 passing yards and seven rushing yards.
Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
After losing their ninth in a row, the Rainbow Warriors remain one of five winless FBS teams. But there were some hopeful performances in the 42-28 loss to Navy this past weekend.
Running back Joey Iosefa, who entered with two carries this season, rushed a school-record-tying 35 times for 191 yards. Iosefa had suffered a fracture in his left foot while training in July. He returned for the Warriors' fourth game, against Nevada on Sept. 21, but played only one series - two rushes for 4 yards and a 2-yard catch - before aggravating his left foot. He then underwent a procedure in which a screw was inserted into his left foot. He was medically cleared on Nov. 5.
Quarterback Sean Schroeder had the best game of his 21-game UH career, completing 29-of-33 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns. Schroeder's 88-percent accuracy was a UH single-game record (based on a minimum 30 passes). Coach Norm Chow announced Schroeder will be the No. 1 quarterback the rest of the season.
On the down side, nose tackle Moses Samia suffered a high-ankle sprain when he was cut-block. He is expected to miss Saturday's game against San Diego State. Defensive tackle Saui Matagiese's availability also is in question because of an MCL injury.
Last year, the Warriors' interior defensive line was depleted because of several injuries. The Warriors can better absorb injuries this season since switching to a three-man front. Marcus Malepeai, who gained 40 pounds in the offseason and now weighs 290, and Calen Friel are alternating at the nose tackle/defensive tackle position.
The Warriors are hopeful Scott Harding will be ready this week. Harding is the team's No. 1 punt returner, punter and slotback. Harding, who is 27, played six seasons of Australian rules football before joining the Warriors as a freshman in 2011. Harding had not worn a helmet or pads until he played American football.
Next game: vs. San Diego State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: For the fourth time in five years, the Warriors had a two-game, 10-day road trip. This time, the Warriors remained in Salt Lake City between the games against Utah State on Nov. 2 and Navy on Nov. 9. The Warriors were entertained with daily snowball fights. (The Warriors have never played a game in snow.) After that, they stayed in the Washington, D.C., area, using their free time to tour sites. ... This week's game is deemed a retro night. UH was known as the Rainbows for several decades through 2000, when the football team became the Warriors. This past spring, after flip-flopping, athletic director Ben Jay decided to change the nickname to Rainbow Warriors. The Warriors will wear retro uniforms, with kelly green as the dominant color, on Saturday.
- Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
A season that began with at least a glimmer of hope has turned into one with a lot of firsts, and not many of them are good firsts.
The Wolf Pack have lost five straight, which is a first since the 2000 team lost seven in a row. Saturday's 38-17 loss to Colorado State in Fort Collins also gave the Wolf Pack their seventh loss of the season, which means they won't go to a bowl game. That's the first time that has happened since 2004. The eight-season streak had been one of the top 15 such streaks in the nation. And two weeks ago Nevada lost to UNLV 27-22, its first loss to the instate rival since 2004.
"My hope is the fan base, the alums, the administration, everybody will stay patient," said first-time coach Brian Polian, whose team started out 3-2 and played two strong first halves against ranked teams UCLA and Florida State. "When you play young guys, they will make young-guy mistakes."
The positive out of this is that many of the younger or less-experienced players are showing improvement, and it led to a handful of individual firsts on Saturday.Redshirt freshman Hasaan Henderson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver who a week prior notched his first career receiving touchdown, made his first career start and had his first 100-yard game (110) and a career-high in receptions (10).
Evan Favors, a junior cornerback who had made just one start prior to this season, had his first interception. Defensive lineman Dupree Roberts-Jordan, a junior college transfer, had his first career sack. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Charles Faraimo had his first pass breakup.
Freshman kicker Brent Zuzo had his first missed field goal, from 54 yards, against CSU after starting the season 11-for-11.
"A year or two down the road, these guys will have played a ton of football," Polian said. "They'll be redshirt sophomores and juniors and seniors, and we'll be better off for it."
Next game: vs. San Jose State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPNU)
Notable: Quarterback Cody Fajardo was limping noticeably after Saturday's game, a result of an attempted tackle in the final minute as he was nearing the sidelines. His status for the San Jose State game was not known. ... David Fales makes his first return to Mackay Stadium. The SJSU quarterback began his career at Nevada before transferring. ... Two starting offensive linemen who didn't make the trip to Fort Collins, center Matt Galas (shoulder, knee) and guard Connor Talbott (ankle), remain questionable this week, as is starting receiver Aaron Bradley (hamstring). ... Receiver Brandon Wimberly saw his streak of consecutive games with a reception reach 50 against CSU. That's the longest of any active receiver and just four short of the NCAA record. Wimberly and the Wolf Pack only have two games left to play.
Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
San Diego State
Until last Saturday, opponents had a mortifying 100 percent success rate against San Diego State in the red zone.
The Aztecs finally managed to break that streak against San Jose State on Saturday, when they blocked a 38-yard SJSU field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter for their first red zone stop of the year.
Still, Aztecs coach Rocky Long maintains that the red zone defense stat is a little overblown and isn't always indicative of the efficiency of a team's defense.
"It's unusual that it's taken that long to happen, but those two weekends that I got to watch a lot of TV, it's normally not the defense that stops (an offense in the red zone), it's the offense that makes a mistake. Or they miss a field goal," Long said, adding that two of SJSU's field goals hit the crossbar and the upright. "That could have been two stops there. I think that's overblown."
Defensively, the Aztecs did well against San Jose State - especially when you consider their struggles on special teams. (They missed a field goal, and had a field goal and two extra point attempts blocked.)
"I thought the defense played well and kept us in the game," Long said. "I thought (outside linebacker) Vaness Harris had his best game of the year - he was in the right place at the right time, put pressure on the quarterback and while he didn't have a lot of stats, he was being physical, pushing the offensive linemen back into the quarterback so he couldn't throw it as well."
The Aztecs' linebackers had an outstanding outing against the Spartans, with senior outside linebacker Nick Tenhaeff coming up with an interception and four tackles, including two for loss and a sack.
Middle linebacker Josh Gavert played well but wasn't as consistent as he could have been, Long said.
The Aztecs had a temporary scare when outside linebacker Derek Largent limped off the field early on, but he eventually came back and finished out the game.
Largent twisted his right ankle, and has struggled with right ankle and knee injuries all year. Long said Largent has been cleared to practice and should not miss any time.
Still, the injuries have definitely affected the linebacker's efficiency this year.
"I don't think he's 100 percent, but probably anybody who's played some and is still out there is not 100 percent either," Long said. "I do think his injuries have slowed him."
Next game: at Hawaii, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Even though sophomore kicker Seamus McMorrow is 0-for-4 on field goals for the year, Long said the Aztecs will stick with him at placekicker instead of going to senior Wes Feer, who made 8 of 11 attempts at the beginning of the year. ... Safety Gabe Lemon is still out with a neck stinger. ... DT Sam Meredith will have surgery this week to repair a torn labrum.
- Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego
San Jose State
San Jose State got away from its running game in its 34-30 come-from-ahead loss to San Diego State.
The Spartans ran the ball only 25 times for 81 yards while throwing it 48 time - the second most pass attempts in a game this season. SJSU coach Ron Caragher said the main factor for the split was San Diego State's 3-3-5 defense.
"It can be challenging to run the ball against that because there's so much movement up front," Caragher said. "You've just got to be able to create advantages in the man-to-man coverage throwing the ball."
Quarterback David Fales passed for 301 yards, a figure that's actually below his average of 319.6 yards per game. He also threw interceptions on his first and last passes of the game. It was his fifth game this season with two interceptions after having only one such game last year.
Returning to a strong rushing attack will be big this week against Nevada, which ranks last in the Mountain West in rushing defense. SJSU had averaged 216 yards on the ground per game during a four-game winning streak that was snapped against San Diego State.
Running back Jarrod Lawson had 78 yards on 17 carries against the Aztecs and is averaging 116 yards in his five starts. On what figures to be a cold evening in Reno, his hard-nosed running could and should be a big factor.
Next game: at Nevada, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPNU)
Notable: Tight end Billy Freeman suffered a concussion when taking a hit to the helmet against San Diego State and is officially day-to-day. He has 19 catches for 343 yards and a touchdown this season. ... WR Jabari Carr, the team's third leading receiver last year who missed two games this season after suffering a dislocated shoulder, actually re-injured that shoulder two weeks ago in practice. He has participated in the past three games but in very limited roles and has not caught a pass. Carr had 23 receptions in the first four games which still ranks third on the team but only gained 150 yards on those catches. There's no word on when he may regain a major role in the offense.
- Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
Should UNLV fail to win either of its final two games and not become bowl eligible, the Rebels will remember how close they came Saturday at home against Utah State.
The Rebels (5-5, 3-3 MW) had a first-and-10 at Utah State's 16-yard line while trailing 28-24 with 35 seconds left. UNLV also had all three timeouts.
But the Rebels went to the end zone each time, and only the first pass was close to being completed.
Coach Bobby Hauck defended the play-calling afterward.
"They were giving us a decent dose of pressure," Hauck said. "We like our guys on those matchups down the field. We knew that there would be a substantial amount of those shots that we would take in the game in the man coverage.
"The fourth-down play, we were trying to throw to the slot (receiver) underneath on that way, and he got covered. I'm not sure if it was legal or not; I'll have to see the film."
Hauck also came under some fire for a fake field goal that went awry midway through the second quarter. He said based on video that the play had an 80 percent chance of working.
Another killer moment occurred on the first drive of the third quarter when the Rebels, already leading 17-14, advanced to the 1. After Tim Cornett was stuffed for a 4-yard loss, quarterback Caleb Herring was intercepted in the end zone.
The strategy at the end of the game probably is less dramatic if the Rebels at least get three points.
"That's all speculation," Hauck said. "Wish we had gotten the points, though."
Next game: Nov. 21 at Air Force
Notable: UNLV led at halftime for just the second time this season. The Rebels also held the advantage against Western Illinois. ... UNLV made a season-high four sacks. ... Cornett picked up his 15th career 100-yard rushing game, two shy of the school record set by Mike Thomas in 1973-74.
- Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal