The easy thing to do is look at the final score and the stats and think Fresno State still is Fresno State, the quarterback play the same abyss it has been since Derek Carr departed.
And, yes, Chason Virgil did have a passing efficiency rating of 92.10 in Saturday’s 43-10 season-opening loss at Nebraska, which, somewhat incredibly, is the 14th time in 27 games the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback has failed to put up a rating of 100.00. Triple digits, by the way, is a less-than-pedestrian number considering the passer ranked 100th in the nation in that statistical category last season, Purdue freshman David Blough, was at 108.60.
But there is a very big difference between what Virgil did in the loss to the Cornhuskers and what just about everyone else who has taken snaps for the Bulldogs the past two seasons has done.
Fresno State the past two seasons has played 12 games where its quarterbacks had an efficiency rating of less than 100.00. By comparison, Mountain West rival Boise State in the past five seasons has played just five games with a rating of less than 100.00.
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Nebraska is a Power Five team, and has a legit defense.
It is not the same as Zack Greenlee in 2014 putting up a 72.63 in a loss to Wyoming, because the Cowboys that season had the worst passing defense in the Mountain West Conference by efficiency rating and were ranked 122nd of 128 in the nation. Wyoming was 156.98 on the season.
It is not the same as the 68.89 that Kilton Anderson posted last season against Air Force, because the Falcons, who one would hope would be good at air defense, were ranked only eighth in the conference.
It is not the same as the 79.58 that Anderson had against Nevada, because the Wolf Pack were ranked seventh in the Mountain West and in the four games before taking on Fresno State had allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 74.8 percent of their passing attempts.
It is not the same as the 99.72 Brian Burrell had in 2014 against Hawaii, because the Rainbow Warriors also struggled to defend the pass, ranking eighth in the conference by passing efficiency rating.
Put up numbers like those against defenses like that and it only hints at bigger issues, and there is no question that the Bulldogs have had bigger issues at the quarterback position.
We did a real good job on driving the ball. We just shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. That’s just something we have to look at on film and then look and see and fix.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil
This was not that, though using the formula for the 32 attempts, 17 completions, 133 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception and the 92.10 it produced doesn’t look all that great.
There were some missed reads, but particularly in the first half Virgil stood in the pocket well, delivered the ball on time and accurately. He hit his first five throws and was 10 of 13 and 15 of 21, and the Bulldogs’ run game didn’t offer much protection – Fresno State gained just 31 yards on 26 plays, and the longest gain by a running back was just 5 yards.
“The scary thing is, since Chason has been here, the 18 or 19 months or whatever it has been, the way he carries himself he feels like an older guy, but as coaches we have to keep reminding ourselves the guy is just a freshman,” Coach Tim DeRuyter said.
“This is only the second start of his career, so while we’re putting a lot on him I was really impressed with his poise. He has gone into Ole Miss, their stadium, and now into Nebraska, and he has executed in loud, hostile environments like he’s out at practice. I think the confidence that he shows, the poise that he demonstrates really affects our teams and raises the level of everybody.”
That, too, is a significant difference.
The Bulldogs were expecting Nebraska to switch up coverages without the suspended senior safety Nathan Gerry and some issues last season giving up explosive pass plays, and it did.
But the Cornhuskers also threw more disguise and pressures at Virgil, testing the Bulldogs’ offensive line and running backs in pass protection, and ended up forcing some early throws. Nebraska had four sacks in the game and also was credited with five quarterback hurries.
Virgil struggled mostly on the plus side of the field.
Fresno State, down 21-10 in the third quarter, had two chances to get back within one score, taking possession of the football in Nebraska territory.
Nebraska has won 30 consecutive games against teams from the Mountain West and is 35-2 all-time against the conference.
The first, starting at the Cornhuskers’ 49, was a three-and-out possession while gaining just 3 yards.
The second, starting at the 48, immediately went backward when right tackle David Patterson was called for a false start and one play later left tackle Christian Cronk was called for a false start. The Bulldogs ended up running two plays on the Nebraska side of the field, Virgil throwing an incomplete pass and then an interception that went off the hands of KeeSean Johnson and right to safety Kieron Williams.
The Bulldogs ran 26 plays in Nebraska territory with Virgil taking snaps and gained just 73 yards.
So there is cleanup on aisle No. 5, but considerable upside is evident for the Bulldogs’ quarterback and their offense. After one game last season, Fresno State was pondering how Greenlee could complete only 43.8 percent of his passes against Abilene Christian, which would end up ranked eighth of 11 in the Southland Conference in passing efficiency defense, ninth in passing defense and 10th in touchdown passes allowed.
“We know our goals are still ahead of us after this game and we know what we want to do as our season is going on,” Virgil said after the game. “I think that we just, coming from this game and taking something from this game, is that we can be a great football team.
“We showed flashes of that in this game, and we fought hard. My mindset going into next week is just rallying everybody and getting those guys back to where we need to be and be just focused.”
Running empty – Fresno State generated only 31 rushing yards on 26 plays, the 1.2 yards per play just missing the top five worst games going back through the 2000 season. The bottom …
▪ -0.7, vs. SMU in 2012, 22 plays for minus-16 yards
▪ -0.04, at Tennessee in 2003, 24 plays for minus-1 yard
▪ 0.5, at San Diego State in 2015, 22 plays for 12 yards
▪ 0.9, at Mississippi in 2010, 33 plays for 30 yards
▪ 1.0, at Boise State in 2004, 17 plays for 17 yards
▪ 1.1, at UCLA in 2000, 23 plays for 26 yards
Lot of Tank – When fall camp started, cornerback Anthoula “Tank” Kelly was thought to be out for the season due to a knee injury suffered in spring practices, but he was cleared to return to practice on Aug. 22 and just 13 days later was on the field against the Cornhuskers.
The plan going in was to play Kelly on special teams units and perhaps for a handful of reps from scrimmage, but he ended up getting much more playing time.
We know that when we actually play that we’re a really good team. That first half really showed what we can do. Unfortunately, we weren’t consistent the whole game.
Senior wide out Aaron Peck
“To not have played much in fall camp and go out and compete against a team like Nebraska, I thought he did a heck of a job, but I know there were a couple of plays he’d like to have back,” DeRuyter said.
First looks – Fresno State played six true freshmen – cornerback Juju Hughes, inside (Will) linebacker Jeffrey Allison, outside linebackers Josh Hokit and Lukas McKenzie, defensive end Elijah Piper and safety Jaron Bryant.
It also played six redshirt freshmen – tight end Jared Rice, cornerback Mike Bell, running back Treyvon Green, safety Jalen Smith, defensive end Jasad Haynes and punter Blake Cusick.
And, there were nine transfers who played their first snaps for the Bulldogs – quarterback Zach Kline, left tackle Christian Cronk, nose guards Malik Forrester and Patrick Belony, defensive end Austin Vaimili, inside (Mike) linebacker Trent Soechting, cornerback Ka’Lonn Milton, long snapper Justin Verrell and offensive tackle Logan Hughes.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada