Fresno State seemed to be an opportunity they could take advantage of. After all, the Bulldogs had been giving up 30 points a game.
Take advantage the Rebels did, by scoring 38 points and gaining 430 yards. Offensive Coordinator David Lee was more talkative after this effort.
"I have been humbled and I am thankful. I know what I was praying for all week and it was answered," Lee said. "Randall Mackey was the bright spot. We have been trying to start him for weeks and we finally got the chance. I think he has grown up and we will see how he handles this success."
Mackey threw for 214 yards and a score and did not have a pick, even though his percentage on 8-18 passing was less than 50 percent.
"Randall had no problems communicating or getting signals from the sidelines. He was in control of the clock, we had no delays or even close. I am really proud of the way he managed the game," Lee said. "We have scaled back a lot and we got some things ironed out this week.
"I kept asking him all week – do you like this play? Do you like this one? We kept some things and threw out some things. We tailored the game to his strengths and he performed. He was confident with our gameplan and that was important.
"His mobility was also big for us tonight. Look at last year's Super Bowl. Both the QBs could escape. That is what is happening now – these pass rushers are coming up the field and if your QB can't dodge some of them, it's a sack."
The key offensive drive of the game was in the fourth quarter, when the Rebels took the lead for good on an 88-yard, 15-play drive and then converted a two-point play for a 35-28 lead.
"We were in a great rhythm. The whole key was being able to run the football. When you can, it's so much easier to call plays. We have a great play-action package and we were able to use that some tonight because we were running the ball more effectively," Lee said. "I believe in play-action but it's only good when you can run the ball. Not being able to run the ball hurt everything. Tonight, when we could run it, you saw the difference.
"I'm not proud we have started three QBs so far, but that's just how it has worked out. Houston (Nutt) came to me early this week and said let's go with Mackey. I trust his instincts. That was his call and it was a good call."
The run game clicked because – according to Lee – the Rebels had everyone available.
"It makes so much difference to have Brandon pretty healthy and to have Enrique back, even though we didn't use him much," he said. "I have confidence in our running backs, all of them, but we need them all. Also, I think our offensive line has gotten better for the second week in a row. If they continue to get better each week, so will we as a unit."
Fresno quarterback Derek Carr and the Fresno offense had 264 yards at halftime and 395 at the end of three stanzas. But then the Rebels buckled down, limiting the Bulldogs to just 49 yards in the final, and deciding, quarter.
Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix said he did nothing unusual, it was just a pride thing.
"Our kids believe the fourth quarter is ours. They keep pushing and playing hard and it pays off if you play for 60 minutes," Nix said. "It's all about finishing. Our kids gained confidence as the game wore on and it was reflected in the outcome and in that good fourth period."
The Rebels also made some big plays in the first half – an interception by Charles Sawyer, a fumble recovery caused by Ralph Williams and scooped by Aaron Garbutt, and another sack by Williams when Fresno was in the Red Zone and subsequently missed a field goal.
"We had timely and critical plays. We gave up some we didn't like, but we also made some good plays when we needed them. As I said, we got some confidence, got the win and we can build off this with an open week coming up," Nix said.
Nix said prior to the game that Fresno signal-caller Derek Carr was the best they have faced thus far this year. After the game, he felt the same way.
"He lived up to expectations. They had some outstanding receivers too. I'm glad we don't have to play him and them but once," Nix said. "They are a talented team, he's a talented player and he understands the passing game very well."
The Rebels leave California with an important win on many fronts. Confidence, break the losing streak, doing things better.
The open week is a blessing, but then Alabama looms.
"We know what is ahead of us, but it will be easier facing it with a win under our belts," Nix said.