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Fresno State brings elite defense into Las Vegas Bowl

Updated December 13, 2018 - 3:46 pm

As Fresno State’s leading tackler on the Mountain West’s best defense, linebacker Jeff Allison was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

It’s an honor that could have gone to a number of Bulldogs. Mykal Walker, George Helmuth and James Bailey each had more tackles for loss, and Tank Kelly and Jaron Bryant combined to break up 29 passes.

Even playing in an age in which the rules are skewed to favor offenses, Fresno State allows a league-best 13.7 points per game, which ties Clemson for second best nationally and stands behind only Mississippi State’s 12-point average.

“I just believe that we’re all disciplined, and we all know our roles,” Allison said. “We all know that we all play for each other, and if one person messes up, then everything doesn’t flow right with the defense. We’re all focused on what we’ve got to do.”

The No. 19 Bulldogs are hoping their defense holds up against an Arizona State offense that averages 30.8 points when the teams meet in the Las Vegas Bowl at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“They’re magnificent,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said of Fresno State’s defense. “Fourteen points a game is quite an accomplishment. They’ve got some good players over there, they really do. They’re coached very well. They’re a good tackling team, play good situational football. Very good in the red zone and on third downs. They’re excellent. That’s why you win 11 games when you play like that.”

What makes Fresno State’s defense especially impressive is its consistency. Even the greatest defenses figure to have an off game every once in a while.

Not with this team.

The Bulldogs have gone 24 consecutive games in holding opponents to 30 points or fewer, easily the nation’s longest streak. Mississippi State and Notre Dame are next at 13 games each.

Washington was the last team to score more than 30 points against the Bulldogs, defeating them 48-16 on Sept. 16, 2017.

“It’s having good cohesion with my teammates on the field,” Helmuth said. “We always know where each other’s going to be or where each other should be, so when things go wrong you can always fix them real quick on the sideline. Having that bond has contributed to holding that many teams under 30 points.”

Fresno State kept three teams, including UNLV, from scoring touchdowns. The Bulldogs have intercepted 17 passes, tied for fifth best nationally. They have created 24 takeaways overall, tied for 12th best. Their turnover margin stands at plus-1 per game, tied for sixth best.

It’s a true team effort with 14 players having been responsible for at least one takeaway.

“All the little things that we try to implement with them, they carry over to the game field,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “We’re not perfect by any means, but our guys play hard and take a lot of pride in what they do.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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Seven handicappers compete in a 20-game college football bowl contest. All picks are made against the spread. Frank Carulli won last year’s contest with a 15-5 record.