Fresno State football is in the home stretch of the season, and as is normal for 2020, the Bulldogs once again face an uncertain week as they try to build on their 3-2 record.
The Bulldogs will play New Mexico on Saturday, but it won’t be in Albuquerque since New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has effectively kicked the Lobos out of the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Mexico packed up and moved to Las Vegas. The Lobos have set up shop at Sam Boyd Stadium – the former home of UNLV – and are reportedly paying around $70,000 per week to house the team at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa neighboring in Henderson.
Although California Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken a strict approach in his response to the pandemic – recently plunging the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California back into a shelter-in-place order – the Bulldogs and head coach Kalen DeBoer have been fortunate enough to remain home in Fresno.
But, as was clearly visible in last Saturday’s loss to Nevada, the pandemic has put a strain on Fresno State.
“The sun came up, right? The sun came up after the game on Saturday,” said DeBoer Monday during his weekly press conference. “Just like always we put the 24-hour rule into effect. After a win or a loss we learn from it and critique it, and we certainly look at the game on Saturday knowing that we had our chances and came up short.
“Guys are certainly disappointed, but I just have so much pride in how we attacked the week and attacked the day and the game as well and kept playing and fighting. I watched the film probably more so critical just making sure our effort was at the level that it needed to be, and it was that. So I told the guys that, and that’s who we want to be. That’s the culture we want to have, and as disappointed as we are that we came out on the wrong mind, if we leave it all out on the field I can live with the results.”
Most visibly, Fresno State was missing the majority of the specialists in Nevada. After the game, DeBoer said the team had one practice to prepare for that, which points to the unit being forced to sit out due to COVID-19 contact tracing. Since that happened late last week, state quarantine protocols may keep them from traveling to Las Vegas.
Long story short, the Bulldogs won’t be at full strength due to COVID-19 and injuries.
“There’s a lot of them for a lot of different reasons,” DeBoer said. “There’s going to be guys that return, and there’s going to be guys that don’t for different reasons.”
One of the key injuries affecting the ‘Dogs was to star running back Ronnie Rivers. He was injured in the 3rd quarter on a long touchdown run that was called back due to a penalty. Rivers is day-to-day, and DeBoer said the injury would not be season-ending if there was more than one game remaining on the schedule.
“I know he’s going to do everything he can with his rehab to day-to-day make sure he’s doing the best he can to get on the football field Saturday,” DeBoer said. “Just really unfortunate that the effort he made on that play was all for naught, because it was a huge turning point in the game. We’re hopeful that he’ll be back.”
Rivers failed to find the end zone against the Wolfpack, and now that he’s dealing with an injury, his chances of breaking the program’s all-time career touchdown record are in jeopardy. After scoring 9 touchdowns in the first half of the shortened season to bring his career total to 44 – tying running back Anthony Daigle – Fresno State had two games cancelled due to the pandemic.
If Rivers is unable to play Saturday and the Bulldogs don’t get invited to a bowl game, he won’t have an opportunity to break the record, assuming he leaves for the NFL and doesn’t utilize his extra year of eligibility that the NCAA has granted all players because of the pandemic.
Outside of the potential missing players, the team as a whole will face an unusual situation this weekend: Sam Boyd Stadium will host two Mountain West games this weekend. Before the Bulldogs and Lobos suit up Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Nevada and San Jose State will play Friday, meaning the ‘Dogs will likely not be able to have their typical Friday walkthrough practice at the stadium.
DeBoer isn’t too concerned about that, though, since the Bulldogs used Sam Boyd Stadium for their walkthrough when they were preparing to play UNLV at Allegiant Stadium earlier in the year. Fresno State is at least familiar with the stadium, and DeBoer said the staff will simply have to find a field the Bulldogs can utilize for their Friday practice.
“It’s just a matter of having a place,” DeBoer said. “It can be any turf field where we need to do our walkthrough and go through our Friday practice. [We’ve] just got to work things out with them because it’s changing. Even the hotel situation – we have reservations but we know one of the two teams is staying at the same hotel before we get there as well.
“So there’s a lot of different pieces to this that have evolved because people are changing their schedules and so forth and all this that’s taken place. That’s nothing new to us right now. We are in complete adapt and adjust mode as we’ve been all season long.”
Photo: Fresno State Athletics