Facing off against Fresno State, the Silver and Blue apparently thought it was playing a game of hot potato as the Bulldogs defense created chaos throughout the contest, scoring on three of four turnovers it forced en route to a 52-36 victory Saturday night at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada went into halftime tied with the Bulldogs 21-21, but unfortunately for the 22, 104 Pack faithful in attendance on the chilly night, the Nevada offense got friendly with Fresno’s D.
Out of the break, Nevada (6-4, 3-3) turned over its first three possessions of the second half, which Fresno (8-3, 6-1) cashed in for 17 points as the Bulldogs scored 23 unanswered points to blow the game open. During the third quarter that saw the visitors seize the momentum, the Wolf Pack offense managed just 59 yards, including a mere four yards on 17 rushing attempts.
“You can’t give a good team 21 points and expect to win,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “Those offensive turnovers certainly set the stage for our downfall… That’s very difficult overcome against a good football team and that really in my mind is the difference in the ball game.
“You have to find a way to reach down inside and play better. I’m really disgusted with the turnovers. They were more of us playing poorly than us playing well. The fumbles weren’t caused by hits. They were just taken from us and the interception was just a bad play. You have to look at that and maybe take the 21 points away and make them work for it and it would give us a little hope.”
The first turnover of the second half came as the Bulldogs’ pass rush forced Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo to scramble back toward his own goal line. Fresno linebacker Donavon Lewis tracked Fajardo down and dislodged the ball on the 2-yard line, sending the ball bounding into the end zone where nose guard Tyeler Davison pounced on the ball for the score.
On the Wolf Pack’s next possession Fajardo threw up a jump ball that Fresno’s Phillip Thomas came down with, resulting in a 31-yard field goal by Quentin Breshears for a 31-21 lead with 8:52 left in the third.
Unsatisfied, the Bulldogs took the ball back again on Nevada’s next play from scrimmage. Linebacker Travis Brown greeted Wolf Pack running back Stefphon Jefferson and ripped the ball away before scooping the loose ball on a bounce and racing 26 yards for the score and a 38-21 advantage.
“What killed us was spotting them 21 points,” Nevada offensive lineman Jeff Nady said. “You can’t have three turnovers for touchdowns and expect to win a game, especially against such a potent offense that Fresno State has. There’s no one to point fingers at except our offense. Spotting them 21 points is tough to bounce back from.”
Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse added to the Bulldogs’ domination with a 1-yard dive that pushed the lead to 44-21 with 5:41 left on the third quarter clock.
With the outcome decided, the sides traded a trio of scores for the 52-36 final. Nevada’s scores came on an 11-yard connection between Fajardo and Nick Hale followed by a 1-yard plunge from Anthony Knight. Fresno’s final score came on a 39-yard scamper by Rouse as he refused to go down, breaking six separate tackles on the dash.
In the first half, Fresno notched the first score on a 36-yard pass from QB Derek Carr to receiver Davante Adams. The Pack tied it at 7-7 on a 2-yard dive by Jefferson, but the Bulldogs retook the lead on a 34-yard pick six by Derron Smith. Nevada scored the next two touchdowns on a pair of Jefferson runs, taking a 21-14 advantage but two missed field goals and a 32-yard TD pass from Carr to Marcel Jensen left the score knotted at 21-21 at the intermission.
In the losing effort, Fajardo went 21-of-39 for 214 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Jefferson led the way with 95 yards and three scores on 19 carries. Richy Turner caught six passes for 79 yards. On the other side, Rouse racked up 261 yards rushing on 36 attempts and two scores while Carr tossed the ball to finish 17-of-35 for 220 yards and a pair of TDs. Adams recorded 120 yards and a score on nine receptions.
After starting the season 6-1 and perfect in the Mountain West at 3-0, Nevada will now look to snap its three-game losing streak as it travels to face New Mexico. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m.
“This team won’t quit. They just won’t quit,” Ault said. “We’re not a real talented football team. We won those six games and we found a way to do it, but against San Diego State, that game took a lot out of us. I can tell you that right now. It’s no excuse for the turnovers though. You do that and you don’t have a chance against good teams.”