MW rankings: Top teams winning with defense | NevadaAppeal.com

MW rankings: Top teams winning with defense

Joe Santoro
Special to the Appeal

Wyoming running back Nico Evans is bottled up by Fresno State linebacker James Bailey on Saturday in Fresno, Calif. Fresno State beat Wyoming, 27-3.

A stingy defense seems to be the key to success in the latest Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings.

The top four teams in the Mountain West in fewest points allowed per game this season (Fresno State, San Diego State, Boise State and Utah State) are also the top four teams, in order, in the rankings this week. All four teams won this past week, allowing an average of just 18.8 points a game.

Fresno State devoured the Wyoming Cowboys 27-3 on Saturday to jump over San Diego State and into the top spot in the rankings. San Diego State, which barely survived a scare from the Air Force Falcons, 21-17, is winning right now on defense alone, beating Boise State and Air Force the past two weeks with just 40 points combined.

Fresno State is also winning with defense. The Bulldogs, which smothered Nevada's offense 21-3 two weeks ago, haven't allowed a touchdown over the past two games. The Bulldogs are second in the nation, allowing just 13.5 points a game this season. The closest the Bulldogs allowed Wyoming to get to the end zone last week was the Fresno State 28-yard line.

No team in the Mountain West right now, though, is without some flaws and concerns. And Fresno State is no different. The Bulldogs' running game has all but dried up in recent weeks, piling up 134 yards on 57 carries (2.4 a carry) the last two weeks against Nevada and Wyoming.

It was a 53-yard rushing effort by quarterback Marcus McMaryion against Wyoming that saved the Bulldogs' ground game last weekend. Fresno's running backs have gained just 87 yards the last two weeks on 41 carries. The Bulldogs are now 107th in the nation in rushing at 132.7 yards a game.

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San Diego State, 26th in the nation in points allowed per game (19.3), is getting almost no offense from anywhere in recent weeks. The Aztecs, who are playing their backup quarterback (Ryan Agnew) and running back (Chase Jasmin) because of injuries to starters Christian Chapman (QB) and Juwan Washington, had just 297 total yards against Air Force. The Aztecs also had just 13 first downs against the Falcons.

Two teams that aren't having trouble scoring, Boise State and Utah State, remained in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively. Boise State outscored Nevada on Saturday 31-27 and Utah State rolled over UNLV 59-28.

Boise State, which allowed just 21.8 points a game, eliminated its mistakes after halftime to get past the Wolf Pack. Boise State turned the ball over three times and was called for nine penalties in the first 30 minutes and needed a last-second field goal to force a 17-17 tie at the break. The Broncos had just one turnover and weren't flagged for a single penalty in the second half.

"The changing point in the game was that drive we had right before the half," Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien said, referring to the field goal.

Boise's offense was also its best defense in the fourth quarter, eating up all but six seconds of the final 8:26 on a 17-play drive. An 8-yard Rypien pass to C.T. Thomas on 4th-and-8 with just under three minutes to go sealed the victory.

"For him (coach Bryan Harsin) to have that confidence in us to go make that play shows a lot about him," Rypien said.

Utah State just might be the team that's playing the best right now in the Mountain West. The Aggies whipped UNLV, 59-28, as quarterback Jordan Love passed for 322 yards and five touchdowns. Love completed 17-of-23 passes and only played three quarters. The Aggies defense, which allows just 23.8 points a game, also sacked UNLV quarterback Max Gilliam seven times.

UNLV, which lost starting quarterback Armani Rogers to a toe injury two weeks ago, has been outscored 109-42 over the last two games by New Mexico and Utah State.

"The season's not over," UNLV defensive end Jameer Outsey said. "We can still get to a bowl game."

Nevada, which jumped up a spot to No. 5 despite the loss to Boise State, is saying the same thing after tough losses (Fresno State, Boise State) at home the last two weeks. Ty Gangi, who missed the Fresno State game because of a leg injury, returned against Boise State and passed for 304 yards and two touchdowns.

Boise State, though, out-gained the Wolf Pack 207-82 on the ground and held the football for more than 35 minutes.

Hawaii fell a spot to No. 6 after a 49-23 loss at BYU. Quarterback Cole McDonald, out a week ago with an injury, returned to pass for 248 yards. BYU, though, led 28-3 at the half and coasted to the victory, after losing to Utah State 45-20 the previous week.

Air Force stayed at No. 7 after nearly upsetting San Diego State. The Falcons had just 14 first downs and 276 total yards but did take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard run by Ronald Cleveland.

The game was delayed by 67 minutes by lightning in the third quarter.

"It completely broke up the whole rhythm of the game," San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. "I think it kind of ruined the game, basically."

Colorado State, thanks to a 20-18 win over New Mexico, jumped over New Mexico and into the No. 8 spot in the rankings. The Rams led 14-3 at halftime but needed a 26-yard field goal by Wyatt Bryan on the final play of the game to beat the Lobos.

The last three teams in the rankings (Wyoming at No. 10, followed by UNLV and San Jose State) didn't change this week.

Wyoming's offense has all but disappeared this season. The Cowboys are 128th in the nation (out of 129 teams) in scoring at 15.4 points game and are 127th in yards per game at 282.3. UNLV was able to run the ball this season with Rogers at quarterback. That has changed the last two games with Gilliam, mainly because UNLV has fallen behind quickly. Rebels' running back Lexington Thomas has gained just 87 yards on 18 carries the last two games.

San Jose State was destroyed by Army, 52-3, last weekend. It was Army's first victory on the west coast since a 17-13 win at Stanford in 1979 under coach Lou Saban. San Jose State lost four fumbles and had the ball for under 23 minutes. Army, which ran for 341 yards, converted 10-of-16 third-down plays.

The Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings . . .

1. FRESNO STATE (5-1, 2-0): Quarterback Marcus McMaryion is carrying the Bulldogs offense lately. The senior passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more against Wyoming. Last week: Fresno State 27, Wyoming 3. This week: Fresno State at New Mexico, Saturday.

2. SAN DIEGO STATE (5-1, 2-0): The Aztecs' Parker Houston, a Reed High graduate, caught a 29-yard touchdown pass with six minutes to play to beat Air Force. Last week: San Diego State 21, Air Force 17. This week: San Jose State at San Diego State, Saturday.

3. BOISE STATE (4-2, 2-1): Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien has been intercepted five times over the last two weeks by San Diego State (twice) and Nevada (three times). Last week: Boise State 31, Nevada 27. This week: Colorado State at Boise State, Friday.

4. UTAH STATE (5-1, 2-0): Utah State quarterback Jordan Love has passed for nine touchdowns the last two weeks combined against BYU and UNLV. Last week: Utah State 59, UNLV 28. This week: Utah State at Wyoming, Saturday.

5. NEVADA (3-4, 1-2): Running back Toa Taua gained just 16 yards on nine carries against Boise State. Last week: Boise State 31, Nevada 27. This week: Nevada at Hawaii, Saturday.

6. HAWAII (6-2, 3-0): Hawaii rushed for just 63 yards on 28 carries against BYU. Last week: BYU 49, Hawaii 23. This week: Nevada at Hawaii, Saturday.

7. AIR FORCE (2-4, 0-3): Quarterback D.J. Hammond was forced to leave the game last week in the second quarter because of an injury. Last week: San Diego State 21, Air Force 17. This week: Air Force at UNLV, Friday.

8. COLORADO STATE (3-4, 2-1): Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels was 24-of-42 for 311 yards and a TD against New Mexico. Last week: Colorado State 20, New Mexico 18. This week: Colorado State at Boise State, Friday.

9. NEW MEXICO (3-3, 1-1): Quarterback Sheriron Jones has passed for six touchdowns the last two weeks combined. Last week: Colorado State 20, New Mexico 18. This week: Fresno State at New Mexico, Saturday.

10. WYOMING (2-5, 0-3): Quarterback Tyler Vander Waal was just 12-of-32 for 117 yards against Fresno State. Last week: Fresno State 27, Wyoming 3. This week: Utah State at Wyoming, Saturday.

11. UNLV (2-4, 0-2): Quarterback Max Gilliam passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns against Utah State. Last week: Utah State 59, UNLV 28. This week: Air Force at UNLV, Friday.

12. SAN JOSE STATE (0-6, 0-2): The Spartans had just 10 first downs and 171 total yards against Army. Last week: Army 52, San Jose State 3. This week: San Jose State at San Diego State, Saturday.