FRESNO, Calif. – Fresno State is expected to have pent-up frustration when it plays host to University of New Mexico on Saturday, and it’s not just because the Bulldogs lost to Boise State 40-14 and fell out of the top 25 last week.
The frustration is actually more about losing to the Lobos last year, 49-39, in the season finale. The Bulldogs (7-3, 4-2 in Mountain West) went into the offseason bitterly, while the Lobos (3-6, 1-4) gained hope for the future and the belief they have the right coach in charge, Danny Gonzales, for even brighter days ahead.
Fresno State used that loss as motivation for the 2021 season. UNM continues to point to that win as proof that it can overcome great odds.
But, this year’s matchup appears to be even more challenging for the Lobos, who are 24½-point underdogs. They’ll be without senior quarterback Terry Wilson, the Kentucky transfer who is expected to miss his fourth straight game with an injured left, non-throwing elbow.
UNM redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Chavez, who suffered a right ankle injury last week when he lost two fumbles, is expected to start. The Rio Rancho High alumnus and former walk-on led the Lobos over the Bulldogs last year in his first start. The 49 points are the most scored by the Lobos in the 16 games of the Gonzales era.
UNM might need that type of offensive performance on Saturday to keep up with Fresno State, which is led by quarterback Jake Haener. Gonzales says the Bulldogs are balanced and capable of beating the Lobos on the ground or through the air.
“They have the ability to play both styles,” Gonzales said. “When you go to the Rose Bowl and beat a good UCLA team and you beat an undefeated San Diego State team and earlier in the season take Oregon to the wire, you’re a great team. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
COACH CHRISTIAN RETURNS: UNM special teams coach Jamie Christian played for Fresno State (1991-93) as a fullback and was an assistant coach for the Bulldogs (2017-19). Saturday’s game is a case of been there, done that as he has been back to Fresno several times during his career.
“I’m here now and I’m a Lobo,” Christian said. “… I’ve been doing this for 22 years, so it happens a lot. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Prior to coaching running backs at Fresno State, he was the running backs coach at UNLV, where he recruited running back Charles Williams from Fresno to Las Vegas. Williams ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries to lead the Rebels to their first win of the season, 31-17, against UNM last week and became the program’s all-time rushing leader with 3,763 yards.
Christian said he was disappointed the Lobos lost, but was happy for Williams.
“As always it’s about our team, but he’s just an awesome kid,” Christian said. “I’m proud to see him do well. He’s had a great career there. I know his family real well. I’m just proud of the kid, of who he is as a person. He’s one of the best kids I’ve been around.”
Christian was on the Fresno State staff when the Bulldogs won the MWC title in 2018 after they had finished last the previous year. He said there are many Fresno State players on the team that he worked with and recruited to the Bulldogs, including running backs Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims.
“We had some success,” Christian said. “There are some kids on that team that I recruited that I always want to see do well. But just not this week.”