No. 25 Fresno State hopes to have all its key offensive cogs when it hosts Boise State on Saturday night in a Mountain West showdown.
The Bulldogs (7-2, 4-1 MWC) have won three straight games while the Broncos (4-4, 2-2) are experiencing a down season under first-year coach Andy Avalos.
Star receiver Jalen Cropper injured his right knee when Fresno State stunned then-No. 21 San Diego State 30-20 last Saturday while leading rusher Ronnie Rivers (ankle) missed the contest after being hurt in the previous week’s win over Nevada.
The return of Rivers (573 rushing yards) would pose a welcome problem as Jordan Mims (504) had a career-best 186 rushing yards against San Diego State and has 320 over the past two weeks.
“With who gets the most touches, I think that’s just how the game plays out,” Bulldogs coach Kalen DeBoer said of the two likely splitting the load. “I really feel like Ronnie is right at that point of being able to be back out there, hopefully a full-go (Tuesday) with practice.”
Cropper is tied for second in the FBS with 10 touchdown receptions. His injury came on a non-contact play and initially looked serious as he was carted off the field.
But he returned to the sidelines later and rode a bike. The outlook continued to look good on Monday, according to offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb.
“He came in the training room (Monday), was loosening it up and we’re confident that he will play,” Grubb told reporters.
Cropper has team-best figures of 61 receptions for 664 yards as the top target of standout quarterback Jake Haener.
Haener has passed for 2,888 yards, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has six 300-yard outings this season and 10 in 15 career games with Fresno State.
The Bulldogs average 35.0 points and 480.4 yards per game but the defensive contributions have been key. The unit allows just 20.8 points per game and has recorded seven interceptions during the three-game winning streak.
Also, Fresno State has recovered 10 fumbles this season, which is tied for fourth nationally.
Free safety Evan Williams is the star player with team-best figures of 71 tackles and three interceptions. Defensive tackle Kevin Atkins has a team-leading six sacks.
Boise State will provide a test to the defense with quarterback Hank Bachmeier and wideout Khalil Shakir.
Bachmeier has passed for 2,203 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions, while Shakir has 49 receptions for 777 yards and four scores. Shakir had nine catches for 118 yards in last Saturday’s 28-19 road win over Colorado State for his ninth career 100-yard outing.
The Broncos average 29.3 points per game but wins haven’t come as easy as in the past. Boise State had to dig itself out of a 13-0 deficit to beat the Rams, a team they have never lost to in 11 all-time meetings.
“I still think we have a ways to go,” Bachmeier told reporters. “I don’t think we’re a complete team yet in terms of finishing a game and starting fast, but I’m so proud of us for being able to finish that game and come back from a deficit.”
Now Boise State looks to knock Fresno State out of the Top 25. The Broncos lead the series 15-7 but the Bulldogs won the most recent matchup, 19-16 in overtime on Dec. 1, 2018 in the Mountain West title game in Boise.
Avalos is just worried about this week and hoping to see his team record a second straight good performance.
“Every week we’re just trying to be 1-0,” Avalos said. “Overall it was our best performance (of the season).”
–Field Level Media