Air Force’s defense has emerged as one of the best in the Mountain West, holding Wyoming and Boise State to 14 points or fewer in the two conference games it has played so far.
That defense has been key in pushing the Falcons to their first three-game winning streak since October 2012 and only the second such streak against FBS foes since the close of the 2010 season. The current streak has included back-to-back home upsets of Boise State and Navy, games in which the Falcons forced a combined nine turnovers.
But there’s no worry about this defense growing too happy with itself, not when you consider where it was a short time ago.
The Falcons (4-1, 1-1 MW) gave up an average of 45.8 points in losing all eight of their conference games a year ago, and defensive coordinator Steve Russ still sees some of the same issues.
“You turn on the film and you’re like, ‘What are we doing?’ ” Russ said. “We’re exposing ourselves. The last two weeks especially we haven’t been hurt in those times we’ve exposed ourselves.”
Because of what Russ calls the “copycat” nature of offenses, he expects to see offenses – starting this week at Utah State – try to take advantage of the opportunities that others have missed.
“They’ll come back to it.” Russ said.
Next game: at Utah State, 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday, ESPNU
Notable: Air Force linebacker Joey Nichol, who hasn’t played since the season opener, dressed for practice on Monday. The Falcons have scored first in every game this season and have led going into the fourth quarter in each game. Safety Christian Spears was named MW defensive player of the week on Monday, the second Falcons safety to win the honor in consecutive weeks (Weston Steelhammer). Utah State won 52-20 at Falcon Stadium last year.
— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette
The Broncos’ offense used arguably its best offensive performance of the post-Kellen Moore era to emerge from a shootout with Nevada on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium with a 51-46 win.
The Broncos produced their highest point total in a conference game since 2011 and addressed weaknesses in the red zone and on third down while facing the No. 1 scoring defense in the Mountain West.
They accumulated 570 yards (7.2 per play), 25 first downs, 10 third-down conversions on 16 attempts (62.5 percent) and five red-zone touchdowns on six possessions (83.3 percent). The Broncos entered the game converting 40.3 percent of their third downs and 50 percent of their red-zone drives.
“We made a big emphasis on third downs and red zone,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “We were tremendously improved there.”
Nevada had allowed 34.5 percent third-down conversions and two red-zone touchdowns in nine tries (22 percent) in its first four games. The Wolf Pack had allowed 19.2 points per game. Boise State coach Bryan Harsin made a point of the red-zone numbers as the Broncos prepared for the game.
“It’s not something we’re real proud of, so we wanted to change that going into this game,” he said. “Nevada was No. 1 in our league in red-zone defense. The challenge was if we don’t go out there offensively and do a better job, we’re probably not going to win the game.”
The Broncos also enjoyed a bounce-back showing from senior quarterback Grant Hedrick, who a week earlier was benched in the third quarter of the loss at Air Force after throwing four interceptions.
Hedrick completed 12 passes in a row in the first half against Nevada. He finished 26-for-31 for 346 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards and a TD.
“Grant really did a great job on the sideline leading the guys,” Harsin said. “He really had a lot of fire in his eyes. And it was personal for him, I know that, the way he played.”
Next game: Oct. 17 vs. Fresno State
Notable: WR Matt Miller (left leg) missed a game for the first time in his career. His status for Fresno State is uncertain. CB Cleshawn Page (knee) returned after missing three games. CB Donte Deayon (leg) was unable to finish the Nevada game. He has been held out of two games and failed to finish three games this season. True freshman RB Jeremy McNichols made his college debut against Nevada to give the Broncos another offensive weapon. He finished with four catches for 54 yards and one carry for 28 yards — an average of 16.4 yards per touch.
— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Just a few weeks ago, there was nothing quite as scary for a Colorado State football team as a true dual-threat quarterback, one who was just as dangerous with his feet as with his arm.
But the Rams (4-1, 0-1 Mountain West) are feeling a little better about their chances of keeping Nevada’s Cody Fajardo under control Saturday night after keeping Boston College’s Tyler Murphy under wraps Sept. 27 in a 24-21 win.
Colorado State limited Murphy, who was averaging 125 rushing yards a game, to 79 yards on 16 carries. And the Rams only allowed the BC quarterback to throw for 169 yards while completing 12 of 18 passes with one interception and no touchdowns.
“I thought our guys played their tails off in that game and were very assignment-oriented,” CSU coach Jim McElwain said Monday. “And that’s what this is going to take because of the option part, the play-action (pass) part. Obviously, this guy can outrun us. If he gets loose, this guy’s a really good quarterback.”
Fajardo, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior, ran for 71 yards and two touchdowns this past Saturday in a 51-46 loss to Boise State. He threw for 306 yards and three more touchdowns but was intercepted four times out of the “pistol” offense created by former Nevada coach Chris Ault.
“He’s a true weapon in what they do,” McElwain said.
McElwain said the Rams can borrow some of what they did against Boston College for this week’s game plan. But with Murphy, the goal was to make the quarterback beat them through the air. Do that with Fajardo, and the Nevada quarterback just might beat you that way.
“It’s still a big challenge ahead of us,” senior linebacker Max Morgan said.
Next game: at Nevada, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday, CBS Sports Network
Notable: Grayson will be limited on the number of throws he makes in practice again this week because of a bruised right (throwing) shoulder suffered in the win at Boston College. Grayson was limited by the injury last week, too, but still went out and threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns against Tulsa. RBs Dee Hart, Treyous Jarrells and Jasen Oden have all been dinged up a bit but are expected to play this week. Hart had the wind knocked out of him, and Oden had to be helped off the field with a leg injury in the fourth quarter of the Tulsa game, and Jarrells was held out after complaining of minor pain in his right knee during a practice two days before the game. CSU has won 10 of its past 14 games and 8 of 10 since beating Nevada 38-17 last season in Fort Collins.
— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
New Mexico coach Bob Davie's decision (tentative though it is) to start junior Cole Gautsche and not freshman Lamar Jordan at quarterback Friday against San Diego State has not met with favor among Lobo fans in cyberspace.
It was Jordan, after all, who stepped up after Gautsche's hamstring injury and led UNM (2-3, 0-1 Mountain West) to its victories over New Mexico State and, last week, at UTSA. Jordan also gave the Lobos a spark in their losses to Arizona State and Fresno State.
Gautsche, the clear starter when the season began, injured the hamstring late in the season-opening loss to UTEP. Since then, he has been limited to the first half against New Mexico State and the Lobos' first two offensive series at UTSA. Gautsche was not injured when Davie and offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse pulled him in favor of Jordan in San Antonio.
But, at his weekly news conference, Davie stated his case for leaning strongly toward Gautsche as the starter against SDSU: experience in the face of the Aztecs' unorthodox, blitzing defense.
"Just the body of work, how much (Gautsche has) played, how quick he is under fire, particularly in the running game," Davie said. "Because things are gonna happen a lot faster in this game. (The Aztecs) are going to force this issue much more. They're going to be attacking, going to be coming off the edge."
Davie said he fully expects Jordan to play, but wants him to see SDSU coach Rocky Long's defense from the sideline first.
"I think it's good for Lamar to have a chance to just kind of see that, hear the coaches in the headsets, talk about the checks, just get a feel for the rhythm of the game," he said.
As interesting as the quarterback situation might be, the more urgent question might be who's going to replace senior running back Crusoe Gongbay as the guy who gets the tough yards up the middle. Gongbay suffered what is believed to be a season- and career-ending foot injury against UTSA.
Gongbay was to undergo an MRI on Tuesday night, but Davie said Monday, "We're expecting the worst."
Next game: vs. San Diego State, 7:30 p.m. MT Friday, ESPNU
Notable: Davie and San Diego State offensive coordinator Bob Toledo were on the same staff at Texas A&M in the late '80s-early '90s — Toledo as offensive coordinator, Davie as defensive coordinator. "We played a lot of football back and forth between ourselves," Davie said. ... Starting nose tackle Cole Juarez, 6-foot-1, 305 pounds, sprained an ankle in the UTSA game. "That's a lot of weight on one ankle," Davie said, adding he's not sure whether Juarez will be ready for San Diego State. ... The Lobos will get two key defensive players back from injury, though neither outside rush linebacker Richard Winston nor inside "will" linebacker Ryan Langford is expected to be 100 percent.
— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
The Aggies are trying their best to put their emotional win over the BYU Cougars behind them and focus on Air Force, but coach Matt Wells admitted it was a hard task.
Their time of victory congratulatory moments ended Monday morning following a viewing of the highlight reel. From now on the highlights will be of Air Force, Wells said.
“We’ve got to move on,” he said. “I told our captains this morning that is our mentality now, that it’s over.”
At No. 18, BYU was the highest-ranked opponent the Aggies had ever beaten. In victory, they not only proved their defense is indeed legit, but they also have an extremely capable quarterback in Darell Garretson and a serious running back threat in linebacker Nick Vigil.
After his press conference in Salt Lake on Monday, Wells spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at a Big Blue luncheon, has fielded numerous congratulatory calls, including one from previous coach Gary Andersen, and has been working the phone himself to reach out to potential recruits.
Wells and his Aggies also found a proper spot for the “Old Wagon Wheel,” the traveling trophy between the schools. It’s now situated in the middle of the Jim and Carol Laub Athletics-Academics Complex.
“It was such an emotional win,” Wells said. “Aggies everywhere who are associated to the program — alumni, ex-teammates — it means a lot to a lot of people.”
But the celebrations are behind them, he insisted.
“We’ve been talking about that game an awful lot,” Wells said of BYU. “But it’s time for us to put it to bed.”
Next game: vs. Air Force, 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday, ESPNU
Notable: Based on the success linebacker Nick Vigil had against a good BYU run defense, the Aggies plan to use the 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore more in the backfield against Air Force. He rushed 16 times for 57 yards against BYU and led the team in tackles with nine. “It was a heroic, individual effort,” Wells said. USU has won five straight Mountain West games and 18 of its 19 league games dating back to 2011. USU’s defense has forced 15 turnovers in the last four games. Placekicker Nick Diaz is one PAT shy of tying Brad Bohn (1997-2000) for the school record with 107 extra points made.
— Lya Wodraska, The Salt Lake Tribune
The shuffle along the offensive line continues for the Cowboys (3-2, 1-0).
Coach Craig Bohl said Monday that senior right tackle Connor Rains will miss Saturday's game at Hawaii (1-4, 0-0) because of an appendectomy he underwent Sunday night. Rains will be out for a couple of weeks.
Rains is the second Wyoming player to have an appendectomy this season. Junior Jake Jones had it Sept. 11, and missed two games.
Rains started the last 17 games, including all 12 last season.
Junior Austin Traphagan will start for Rains. Traphagan started at right guard Sept. 20 against Florida Atlantic and at left tackle Sept. 27 at Michigan State.
Bohl said true freshman Ryan Cummings will start at left tackle at Hawaii. Sophomore starter Nathan Leddige continues to be evaluated for a concussion that he suffered prior to the Cowboys' last game at Michigan State on Sept. 27.
Sophomore Sam Hardy (ankle) and Jones are listed as 'or' in terms of starting at right guard. Hardy started UW's first three games before he suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter of the Sept. 13 game at Oregon. Jones started at Michigan State.
Barring no other changes, Wyoming will use its third different starting lineup along the offensive line in as many games this week.
"That's why we have 'coach' on our shirts. You get the next guys in there ready to play," Bohl said. "Every year has its challenges and surprises, and that's one that we have there." The musical chairs along the offensive line have been a factor in the Cowboys' lack of scoring as they are last in the Mountain West in scoring (16.4 points per game), and also have allowed 22 sacks and 39 tackles for loss in five games.
Next game: at Hawaii, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (Root)
Notable: Wyoming was off last week, but practiced four times including a Saturday afternoon practice after several coaches returned from brief recruiting trips. ... This will be the Cowboys' first trip to Hawaii since 1997. They are 7-5 all-time against Hawaii in Honolulu. ... Wyoming beat Hawaii in Laramie 59-56 in overtime last season. ... Junior running back Shaun Wick is 14th in the nation in yards-per-carry average at 6.89. That is the second-best mark in the Mountain West behind Colorado State junior Dee Hart (7.43). ... Wyoming is the only team out of 125 full-time FBS members not to have an interception on defense this season.
— Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Fresno State doesn't have much that jumps off a stat sheet, but it also doesn't lack for confidence when it comes to a passing game that still is in development.
The Bulldogs' quarterbacks have completed only 56 percent of their throws through six games, ranking 92nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision, with starting quarterback Brian Burrell at 56.9 percent (103 of 181). Despite racking up 19 explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards the Bulldogs are averaging only 5.9 yards per passing attempt, putting them in a tie for 110th in the nation.
But if opposing teams start to play run-first, drop a safety into the box or adjust in other ways to try to stymie a running game that is generating 191.7 yards per game and take their chances that the Bulldogs lack the consistency to do too much damage outside, well then, go ahead.
"I hope they do and all the receivers hope they do, too," Burrell said. "I think one of these upcoming games, a team is going to do that. They're going to try to take away the run and then we're just going to pass the ball on them and I think we'll be successful doing it."
Are the Bulldogs at a point they can take advantage of that?
"I feel like we're there," wideout Josh Harper said.
"No doubt about it. Absolutely," Burrell said.
But with the Bulldogs getting into the meat of their Mountain West schedule with UNLV on Friday and Boise State on deck can they find a level of consistency that has been missing?
Aside from the completion percentage and yards per passing attempt, Fresno State is ranked 101st in passing efficiency rating at 114.89 and in a tie for 94th with seven interceptions.
"Obviously, we want to be better at it," Coach Tim DeRuyter said. "It's something you work very hard to get into those rhythms so that you are throwing on time, you're anticipating throws. We have to be playing our best ball between now and November and hopefully each week we get better so that we are, but if we can't get it done we have to look at how we are doing things to make it better or if we have the right guys doing it."
For Burrell and the receivers, it is a matter of reps on the practice field and in games. Certainly, the pieces are there. Harper is tied for second in the conference with 35 receptions, Aaron Peck has been more consistent having moved inside from out and Da'Mari Scott and Delvon Hardaway are legitimate threats to stretch the field.
"As you practice, you hope to execute better," DeRuyter said. "You hope to understand open and closed middle coverages even when they're trying to disguise and know where the holes are and how we have to adjust our routes. It's going to take hard work in practice and film study and obviously in games."
Next game: at UNLV, 8 p.m. MT Friday, CBS Sports Network
Notable: Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm on the matchup against San Diego State and its 3-3-5 defense and coach Rocky Long: "When you play him, you feel like you didn't practice all week because the looks you get up front, you've never practiced against. He has a great system." ... The Bulldogs converted 50 percent (9 of 18) of their third downs into first downs against the Aztecs, a season high and the best percentage they have had in 10 games, dating back to a 56.3 percent (9 of 16) last season in a 69-28 victory over New Mexico. ... The Bulldogs' offense had not produced a point in the first quarter of its first five games, but got a 37-yard field goal from freshman Kody Kroening with 8:08 to go in the quarter and then a 1-yard touchdown run by Brandon Connette with 2:56 to go. Fresno State still has been outscored 55-12 in the first quarter. ... Fresno State had some questions about its physicality and tackling after blowout losses to start the season at USC, at Utah and against Nebraska. They answered some against the Aztecs, limiting Donnel Pumphrey to 94 yards on 24 plays (3.9 ypp) and snapping a streak of 15 consecutive games in which they had at least one rushing touchdown. "Here's the thing, we can talk about adjustments and whatnot, but our kids, they wanted to get into a fight," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. "They knew it was going to be a physical game and it didn't matter. They wanted to go. We changed some things and we moved some things around, but it is what it is. Those kids went out and played their butts off. They just wanted to go, man."
— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
It has been a difficult week for head coach Norm Chow, whose wife suffered a brain aneurysm on Oct. 3 at the family home in Los Angeles. Diane Chow underwent two procedures at the UCLA Medical Center. After this past Saturday's 28-14 road loss to Rice, the Warriors returned to Hawaii while Chow headed to Los Angeles. The Warriors only have conditioning drills, video reviews and meetings on Monday. Chow arrived in Hawaii on Monday night and led Tuesday's practice. On Friday, a memorial service is scheduled for Chow's mother, Thelma, who died in August.
The Warriors might change starting quarterbacks. Taylor Graham could replace Ikaika Woolsey, who has had uneven performances in the past few games. Graham transferred from Ohio State in January 2012. He redshirted that season. He started the first three games of 2013 before suffering a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. He played sparingly after that, and then underwent surgery during the offseason.
Graham might be receiving additional support. Running back Joey Iosefa, who missed the past three games because of an ankle injury, might be available to play this weekend.
On defense, inside linebacker Tevita Lataimua is expected to be ready after recovering from a leg injury. It will be a timely return because starting inside linebacker Julian Gener's availability is in question. Gener left the Rice game, on a cart, after suffering an injury.
Next game: vs. Wyoming, 10 p.m. MT (Root/Oceanic PPV)
Notable: In February, 5-foot-8, 175-pound cornerback Gaetano DeMattei participated in a tryout for potential walk-ons. DeMattei did well enough to earn an invitation to spring training. After excelling in the 15 spring practices, he was invited to training camp, where he earned a scholarship. With nickel corner Nick Nelson recovering from a leg injury, DeMattei was elevated to No. 1 nickelback. He responded with six unassisted tackles against Rice this past weekend. Three years ago, linebacker Benneton "Benny" Fonua was the state's top high school defensive player. He developed into a menacing special-teams player. With injuries to inside linebackers, Fonua moved into the defensive rotation. Against Rice, Fonua recorded his first sack and interception of his UH career. At stake this Saturday is the Paniolo (cowboy) Trophy. The original trophy was, um, misplaced after Wyoming seceded from the Western Athletic Conference in 1999. A replica trophy was donated when UH joined the Mountain West in 2012, resurrecting the series against Wyoming.
— Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
The deep pass that quarterback Cody Fajardo threw on fourth-and-8 late against Boise State on Saturday sure looked like a bad decision on his part.
The Wolf Pack were down 51-46 and at the Boise State 37-yard line with about 90 seconds to play. The Wolf Pack needed a first down — with 90 seconds there was still plenty of time on the clock — and Fajardo, the fourth-year starting quarterback, took a chance with a lower-percentage deep ball to Hasaan Henderson.
The ball fell incomplete near the 10-yard line, Boise State ran out the clock and Nevada fans, media and pundits surely wondered why in the world he would take such a big risk.
As it turns out, not everything is as it appears.
Polian said at his weekly luncheon Monday that Fajardo had no choice. Boise State was showing a Tampa 2 defense — two deep safeties — and then the middle linebacker dropped into deeper coverage, too, at the snap of the ball.
One of the Wolf Pack receivers in the three-receiver set (Polian did not want to identify which one, but Richy Turner and Jerico Richardson were also on the field) was supposed to recognize the linebacker’s reaction and break off at 10 yards.
“There was a mental error on one of the receivers, and Cody had no choice,” said Polian, who maintained his postgame point, too, that Fajardo wasn’t solely at fault on the four interceptions. “... One of our receivers has a Tampa 2 adjustment, that when he sees the (middle linebacker) vacate, he’s supposed to stop at 10 yards. Nobody would be around him, but he didn’t recognize the coverage. So, Cody had no place to go with the ball, so he tried to stick it in a tight window.”
Polian said he’s heard rumblings from fans who, naturally, it stands to reason, put that on Fajardo.
“And that goes back to people who say, ‘Boy, the quarterback stunk on the last drive,’ ” Polian said. “We’ve got to do better around him. The quarterback knew exactly where to go with the ball. The guy he was supposed to go to wasn’t where he was supposed to be. So, it is what it is.”
Next game: vs. Colorado State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday, CBS Sports Network
Notable: Senior defensive end Brock Hekking hasn’t had the kind of sack and tackle-for-loss numbers he had last season, partly because of double teams, but that hasn’t stopped Polian from praising him. “Hekking, while his sack numbers are not out of this world, is an unbelievable football player,” Polian said. “ That is the hardest-playing sucker I have ever been around at any school that I have coached. He’s every down, 1,000 miles an hour, throws his body around recklessly. He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever coached.” Nevada’s start time for the BYU game in Provo on Oct. 18 has been set for 8:15 p.m. Mountain and will be on ESPN2. That makes eight of the team’s first 10 games that will have a start time of 7 p.m. or later.
— Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
SAN DIEGO STATE
San Diego State true freshman quarterback Nick Bawden will get another week and another game to improve.
Aztecs head coach Rocky Long said Sunday that Bawden will start at New Mexico on Friday because senior Quinn Kaehler’s sprained throwing shoulder is not healed enough for him to play. Long said Kaehler maxed out at throwing 10- to 15-yard passes to trainers on Sunday.
“The trainers have told me it’s very unlikely that he would improve enough to play this week,” Long said.
The coach said the training staff was somewhat encouraged that Kaehler could throw at all after suffering a sprain to his AC joint on a hit in the fourth quarter of the Aztecs’ victory over UNLV on Sept. 27.
“I think they were surprised he could throw, so that’s a positive,” Long said.
Against New Mexico (2-3, 0-1), Bawden and SDSU (2-3, 1-1) will attempt to bounce back from a 24-13 loss on Friday to league rival and West Division favorite Fresno State (3-3, 2-0). In a game the Aztecs still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, Bawden threw two interceptions, both getting tipped before falling into the hands of the same Bulldogs defensive back, Lewis Donovan. Bawden also coughed up a fumble on a first-quarter run.
The three turnovers led to 14 points, and while SDSU forced three turnovers, those takeaways resulted in only three points.
Starting his first college game without having thrown a live pass, Bawden hit on only five of his first 15 passes for 51 yards through the first three quarters. He looked to be more comfortable at times in the final quarter, completing 4 of 9 for 33 yards, but the interceptions negated most of the upside.
Bawden did march the Aztecs to their only touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but threw only two passes on the drive – a 7-yarder to Larry Clark to convert a third down, and a 5-yarder to Adam Roberts for the TD.
Asked to identify which areas Bawden needs to improve upon the most, Long said: “I can’t say specifics. I think he needs to improve on everything. Later in the game he looked more comfortable, but he still made some bad throws. He looked a little bit with his body language that he was more comfortable late in the game.”
Bawden will presumably have to play better against the Lobos, who ranked fourth-best in the conference in passing yards allowed before beating UTSA 21-9 on Saturday. The young quarterback went into the Fresno State game with one fewer practice day because the Aztecs had a short week.
“I truly believe in practice,” Long said. “We had a short week last week, and maybe we didn’t play as good as we could have. (Bawden) didn’t get as many reps as he could have.”
The Aztecs had a walk-through practice on Sunday and will have a shortened practice on Monday because of class schedules. That is better than last week, when they only walked through on Monday.
Next game: at New Mexico, 7:30 p.m. MT Friday, ESPNU
Notable: Through five games, San Diego State has had 17 players make their first career start and 29 players see their first action with the Aztecs (two are DI transfers). SDSU currently has four projected starters that are out due to injury: senior linebacker Derek Largent, junior linebacker Jake Fely, senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler and senior wide receiver Ezell Ruffin. SDSU has won four of its last five games immediately following a loss and is 9-5 under Rocky Long in a game following a defeat. The Aztecs have won nine consecutive games played in the Mountain time zone. That is tied with TCU for the longest active FBS win streak in the time zone (Arizona State and Utah State are tied for third at seven). Long has been on the winning sidelines of the last 12 games played between the Aztecs and Lobos. He led UNM to seven straight wins in the series (2001-2008), was the defensive coordinator for SDSU wins in 2009 and 2010, and guided San Diego State to victories as the head coach in 2011 and 2013. A 1974 graduate of New Mexico, Long owns a 9-2 record as a head coach against the Aztecs and is 2-0 as a head coach against the Lobos.
— Tod Leonard, San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN JOSE STATE
The Greg Robinson effect has delivered an immediate impact for San Jose State already this year.
The Spartans' new defensive coordinator, a former two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos, has revitalized a unit that cost the team a bowl appearance last year. Through five games, including one against powerhouse Auburn, San Jose State leads the Mountain West in total defense, allowing just 320.2 yards per game. The Spartans have the nation's top passing defense allowing 89.6 yards and are third nationally in pass defense efficiency.
Robinson was expected to come in and improve a unit that struggled last season under first-time coordinator Kenwick Thompson (now an outside linebackers coach at Vanderbilt), but this improvement has exceeded expectations.
"I foresaw some improvement," coach Ron Caragher said. "I didn't know how much though."
The secondary is the top unit on the team and has been the lights-out unit. It held UNLV to an 11-of-28 passing performance for 116 yards in Saturday's 33-10 win.
"I think what's happened is we're on the same page," Caragher said. "We're getting great communication in the secondary with motion shifts and checking coverage. Our front four is playing gap sound and being disciplined, and that frees up our linebackers to make plays."
Next game: at Wyoming, Oct. 18
Notable: San Jose State will enjoy its second and final bye week of the season before a tough travel stretch that includes back-to-back road games. First is the trek to 7,000-plus feet at Wyoming, then comes a cross-country trip to Annapolis, Md., to play Navy in the final game of a four-year home-and-home series.
— Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
UNLV, which has suffered one blowout loss after another, is in need of a major confidence boost.
"There's not a lot of reason to be confident right now," coach Bobby Hauck said. "We have to maybe have some innate sense of that because we've done a lot of good work, and worked hard to get ourselves ready to go (into) the season and into the week. We've got great effort level. We're a physical football team. So those things are things we can hang our hat on, and we need to go perform better."
The Rebels are losing by an average of 21.9 points per game, which, if it holds, would be the fourth-worst margin in Rebels history.
Three of the Rebels' worst seasons in point differential, including this one, have come under Hauck's watch, and they haven't lost this badly under one coach since Jeff Horton was on the sideline. In Horton's five seasons, between 1994 and 1998, UNLV lost by an average of more than 20 points three times. That includes the school-record 27.1-point average in 1995.
Hauck's first two teams lost by more than 20 points — 21.3 points in 2010 and 23.1 in 2011 — when he was trying to remake the program after taking over for Mike Sanford, who had made the program more competitive over time.
Sanford's first team in 2005 lost by an average of 15.8 points, and the number decreased to 12.0 in 2006 and 10.4 in 2007. All were two-win teams. His final two teams, which each won five games, lost by roughly a touchdown on average.
Hauck began to show similar improvement in his third season in 2012, losing by an average of 10.6 points, though the team won just twice for the third season in a row. Then last season's team nearly broke even, losing by an average of 1.9 points, and winning seven games overall to earn a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It was UNLV's first bowl in 13 years.
UNLV has lost by double digits in each week this season, except the 13-12 victory over Northern Colorado. The Rebels also average 16.8 points per game and give up 38.7. They haven't averaged fewer points scored since putting up 14.5 in 1999.
Next game: vs. Fresno State, 8 p.m. MT Friday, CBS Sports Network
Notable: Hauck said he didn't know if quarterback Blake Decker, who didn't play in the second half of Saturday's 33-10 loss at San Jose State because of an injured right arm, will be ready Friday. If Decker doesn't go, Nick Sherry will start, but Jared Lebowitz is receiving extra work in practice. Lebowitz is a redshirt freshman who has yet to play. ... Hauck said he hoped to have a better idea on Decker and running back Keith Whitely, who had ice on his left knee at San Jose State, by Wednesday or Thursday. ... UNLV hosts Fresno State for the first time since 1996, but the Bulldogs have played at Sam Boyd Stadium twice since in the Las Vegas Bowl, including last season. The Rebels are on a four-game skid, and Fresno State has won three in a row.
— Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal