One lucky bounce went Fresno State’s way early in the second half, changing the tides and kick-starting a dominant third quarter for the Bulldogs after what had been a pretty rough showing up to that point.
That bounce helped launch the Bulldogs to a 31-24 win over UNLV at Valley Children’s Stadium on Saturday, capped by a game-sealing interception by linebacker Levelle Bailey.
How it happened: The Bulldogs came out strong on defense, only allowing the Rebels to gain 23 yards on their first drive and forcing them to punt.
- Quarterback Mikey Keene, back from injury, matched the defense’s early intensity and fueled the ‘Dogs to a quick 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs took 11 plays to drive the ball downfield 81 yards, ending with a 31 yard touchdown strike from Keene to receiver Tim Grear Jr. Keene completed six of seven pass attempts on the drive for 64 yards on the drive.
- But Keene and the offense couldn’t find anywhere close to the same success for the rest of the half. Fresno State had five more drives in the first half, which saw the ‘Dogs gain a total of 17 yards. The Bulldogs had three three-and-outs in those drives, and Keene threw his first interception of the game, which led to a UNLV field goal.
- Up 10-7 near the end of the first half, the Rebels drove 71 yards on nine plays, only taking 1:16 to find the end zone and head into the locker room up 17-7.
- Fresno State’s offensive woes continued after halftime, punting once again after gaining just one first down.
- UNLV punt returner Jacob De Jesus opted not to field the punt, but he was too close to the ball as it bounced right into him when it landed, ricocheting off him and into the hands of Fresno State’s Steven Comstock, giving the Bulldogs possession at the UNLV 15 yard line.
- The Bulldogs went on to score 3 touchdowns and 1 field goal in the quarter. Keene threw all three touchdowns as he was able to hit his targets downfield instead of being forced to hit the checkdown pass as he was throughout most of the first half. Fresno State held the Rebels scoreless in the third quarter, putting up a 24-0 mark in the box score.
- Fresno State’s third quarter success didn’t completely translate through the end of the game. UNLV found the end zone early in the fourth quarter, which was shortly followed by Keene’s second interception of the night. The Bulldogs went three-and-out with around four minutes remaining, giving the Rebels the ball back while trying to hold on to a seven-point lead.
- UNLV nearly completed the comeback, driving all the way to the Fresno State eight yard line. On third down with just seven seconds left on the clock, UNLV quarterback Jayden Maiava found wide-open receiver Senika McKie on the left side of the end zone, but the ball slipped through McKie’s hands, bounced off his shoulder and helmet over himself and hit the ground. Bailey snagged an interception immediately after on fourth down to seal the win for Fresno State.
By the numbers: While Fresno State came out victorious, the Bulldogs did so in an atypical fashion based on the numbers.
- UNLV gained 112 more yards than the Bulldogs, totaling 424 on the night, which included a 100-yard discrepancy in their rushing attacks.
- The Rebels averaged 12.8 yards per completion, compared to 9.5 for the ‘Dogs.
- The Rebels moved the chains 21 times, compared to 16 first downs for Fresno State. UNLV went 9 for 18 on third down attempts, while the Bulldogs went 6 for 14.
- UNLV also led the time-of-possession battle at 31:14, capping a series of statistics that would normally point to the winning team.
What we’re watching: The Bulldogs improve to 7-1 on the season, including 3-1 in conference play, keeping their hopes alive for a second-consecutive Mountain West championship.
- Fresno State remains at home next week to host Boise State (4-4), who beat Wyoming 32-7 on Saturday.