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Fresno State defense keeping opponents off scoreboard

November 8, 2018

The Fresno State football team has made a habit of keeping opponents off the scoreboard under second-year head coach Jeff Tedford.

But what the Bulldogs have been able to do through Mountain West play has been on another level. Through five conference games this season, the Bulldogs have allowed just three touchdowns and have held four of their five opponents to single digit points, building confidence for Fresno State as it enters a crucial two-game stretch.

“Week by week we want to try to get better,” said junior defensive end Mykal Walker, who leads the Bulldogs with 9.5 tackles for a loss on the season. “We key in on the little details and we believe if we take care of the little details, the big details will take care of itself. We get confident week by week, but we still need to improve and get better.”

Behind their stout defense, the Bulldogs (8-1, 5-0 Mountain West) have won seven straight games and come into Friday’s road matchup against Boise State. Fresno State is ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press’s Top 25 poll.

Fresno State will be able to clinch the West Division title next week with a win against San Diego State, regardless of Friday’s outcome, but a win over the Broncos will provide a big boost for the Bulldogs, who haven’t beaten the Broncos in Boise since 1984.

“We see the opportunity we have right now,” said junior defensive back Juju Hughes. “We see the way we’re playing and things can only get better from here if we continue to execute at the level we are. You just see a lot of guys that are excited. They want to keep playing the way we’re playing, everybody wants to be ready when their name is called, do their part and we just want to see where things take us and keep rolling.”

Statistically, the Bulldogs enter the game second in nation in scoring defense, allowing 12.3 points per game. But low-scoring opponents have been a trend for Fresno State under Tedford. Since back-to-back losses against Alabama and Washington last year, the Bulldogs have 20 straight games of holding opponents to under 30 points, the longest active streak in the nation.

Included in that streak was a pair of 17-point performances against Boise State in back-to-back weeks last year.

Fresno State beat the Broncos 28-17 in the regular season finale in 2017, but despite beating the Broncos had to travel to Boise the following week for the Mountain West title game. Boise State won the rematch 17-14.

“If you were on the team last year, it definitely stings just a little bit,” Hughes said about the championship loss. “But guys aren’t focusing on it or putting an emphasis on it. Last year is last year, it’s a whole new season, but it’s definitely something in the back of your head.”

Perhaps more impressive than the Bulldogs’ scoring defense numbers is how well they’ve done in second halves of games. Fresno State has allowed a total of 36 points in Mountain West play, but just 10 of those points have come in the second half. A late touchdown two weeks ago against Hawaii allowed the Rainbows to pull within 50-20, and Fresno State allowed a fourth-quarter field goal in a 48-3 victory.

Even though the Bulldogs haven’t been in a close game late in more than a month, they still take pride in being able to finish games and not allow any more points to be surrendered.

“We always take it personally any time teams put up points on the board,” said Walker. “Just for us, once they put some points on the board, we go to the sideline and talk. We do a really good job of coming together and adjusting and making sure we stop giving up the little stuff.”

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