Four games and 296 plays into Fresno State’s football season, it had been all about potential, yet unfulfilled. It clearly was there, but what also was made clear in a 45-20 loss to UNLV on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium is that it remains elusive and won’t be realized until the Bulldogs can get out of their own way.
Ex-Bullard High star Charles Williams provided a second-quarter spark, keying one touchdown drive and finishing another and a pair of long scoring plays stretched UNLV’s advantage in the Mountain West opener for both teams.
UNLV quarterback Dalton Sneed – expected to be as much of a threat or more running the ball as passing it – escaped Brandon Hughes’ near sack in the end zone, eluded multiple defenders near the sideline and ran a Rebels record 91 yards on third-and-11 to push the lead to 18 with 7:38 to go in the third.
Evan Pantels added a 38-yard field goal 6 minutes later to make it 31-10. Fresno State pulled with 14, then 11 before UNLV’s David Greene capped the scoring with a pair of touchdown runs.
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The Bulldogs (1-4), after allowing 300-plus yards the past two weeks to both Toledo and Tulsa, surrendered 364 on the ground to UNLV. Sneed had 147 on 15 carries; Williams ran 18 times for for 153.
Fresno State’s season, to this point, could be wrapped by one play just before the end of the first half and one midway through the third quarter, one on offense and one on defense.
Both were extreme failures to execute.
The Bulldogs, down 14, forced a punt and ended up on the plus side of the field when safety DeShawn Potts deflected the kick and freshman Juju Hughes alertly fielded the ball on a bounce and returned it 11 yards to the UNLV 32. There were 34 seconds remaining in the half, enough time to get a touchdown and that exactly is what was on the mind of coach Tim DeRuyter.
But three plays netted 9 yards and the Bulldogs called a timeout with 11 seconds remaining. Facing a fourth-and-1, the Bulldogs could have kicked a field goal.
But it was a touchdown that they wanted and needed.
On that fourth-and-1 play, with an offensive line that is ranked last in the conference in rushing offense measured by yards per play and per game, the Bulldogs went for it.
Get the first down, get to the line and kill the clock by spiking the ball.
But the snap from center Aaron Mitchell bounced on its way to quarterback Chason Virgil, throwing off the timing. There was an awkward handoff to running back Dontel James, who tried to make his way for that first down, but came up short.
No touchdown. No field goal, either, as possession was turned over on downs.
“We were down 14 points. It was fourth-and-1 and there might have been 14 or 15 seconds left,” DeRuyter said. “We thought we could get it and take a shot and if not kick a field goal. We talked about going for a field goal there, but we thought here as enough time and we thought hat we would get it. We had a bad snap; we didn’t execute the play.”
Was that one play a snapshot of the season?
“Absolutely,” DeRuyter said. “Both sides of the ball. We didn’t protect our quarterback well at times. We dropped footballs when balls hit us. Our quarterback didn’t hit receivers when they were open. On the defensive side, we were fitting gaps, but we didn’t have multiple guys to the ball and we had guys miss tackles. The blame is everywhere.”
UNLV (2-3), after a sluggish start, had far fewer problems, despite playing with a redshirt freshman quarterback in Sneed making his first career start.
The Rebels leaned on their strength and a Bulldogs weakness: running the football. After gaining an average of 3.3 yards on their first 10 plays, UNLV started churning out the yards.
On its next 19 plays to end the half, they averaged 7.1. In taking a 7-0 lead, they went 70 yards in 14 plays, 13 of those runs with freshman Charles Williams, a Bullard High grad, carrying six times for 33 yards.
The Bulldogs obviously missed on defense, too.
After cutting the UNLV lead to 21-10, the Bulldogs had a chance to get within one score and appeared to be set up with a good chance, even for their scuffling offense.
The Bulldogs had the Rebels backed up at their 9, when Sneed hit Tim Holt with a short pass and outside linebacker James Bailey closed quickly and separated Holt from the football. The play was ruled a fumble, recovered by defensive end Nate Madsen.
But after a lengthy review, the call was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass.
I’m not a referee, but we saw it the other way. And then for them to turn that safety into a touchdown, I don’t know just things aren’t going our way. We’re not executing. I can’t speak about the defense, but I know offensively (there are) too many dropped passes, too many missed assignments, too many missed blocks on the outside. I don’t know about our line, but guys want to play hard, we’re just not getting the job done right now.
Bulldogs receiver Aaron Peck
Rather than the offense having the football at the Rebels 5, the Bulldogs defense was back on the field though just one play from forcing a punt. But on third-and-11, Sneed scrambled away from pressure, retreating into the end zone where he slipped Hughes’ attempted tackle.
Sneed made a cut to his right to elude a tackle, then got outside and to the sideline where he escaped another tackle and sprinted downfield for the score – eclipsing an 89-yard touchdown run by Darin Brightmon against New Mexico State in 1989.
“There’s no doubt that was the turning point in the ball game,” DeRuyter said. “We have the ball right there I think at the 6-yard line going in. It’s a huge momentum play. If we get the ball right there and we score it’s a different ball game. Instead, they turned it into a momentum play and after that we tried to scratch back in, we got another score, but for all intents and purposes that was the biggest play of the game.”
Fresno State struck back, with Chason Virgil throwing 80 yards to Aaron Peck to get the Bulldogs back within 14 with 1:17 left in the third.
UNLV held a 21-7 edge at halftime.
“I’m angry. I’m upset,” said Peck, who finished with five catches for 194 yards and two scores. “We bust our butts in practice all week and come out here ad don’t get the job done. It hurts. Just looking for an answer, you know?
Shift on the line – After a couple of weeks of tinkering with offensive line combinations on the practice field, Fresno State made a change to its starting unit, moving left guard Aaron Mitchell to center and center Jacob Vazquez to left guard.
The other three positions up front remained the same, with Christian Cronk and David Patterson starting at left and right tackle and Micah St. Andrew starting at right guard.
Fresno State went into the game ranked last in the Mountain West in rushing offense averaging just 3.3 yards per play and 114.8 yards per game and was 11th of 12 in sacks allowed with 13.
The Bulldogs didn’t do much better in the first half – and UNLV didn’t appear particularly formidable coming in. The Rebels were seventh in the Mountain West in rushing defense and 10th in sacks.
The Bulldogs rushed the ball 17 times for 47 yards, just 2.8 yards per play. Quarterback Chason Virgil also was sacked twice.
Long play is well short of record – Virgil and Aaron Peck teamed up on an 80-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, cutting the Rebels’ lead to 31-17. It was the Bulldogs’ second-longest play from scrimmage this season – Virgil had an 85-yard touchdown pass to Jamire Jordan in the loss at Toledo.
The Fresno State record for longest pass play is 98 yards from Paul Pinegar to Paul Williams against Boise State in 2005. The 80-yard pass play tied for the 16th longest in school history.
Et cetera – Bulldogs safety Dalen Jones made the trip but did not dress for the game. The senior was held out due to a leg injury suffered at the end of practice Thursday.
▪ Fresno State junior linebacker Robert Stanley left in the first half with a right knee injury. He didn’t return and was replaced by Jeffrey Allison, a freshman who had played in each of the first four games.
▪ After three players served first-half suspensions last week against Tulsa, all 68 Bulldogs on the trip were present and accounted for in pregame.
FRESNO STATE AT NEVADA
- Oct. 8: 4 p.m. at Mackay Stadium (30,000) in Reno
- Records: Bulldogs 1-4, 0-1 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 2-3, 0-1 (lost 38-17 at Hawaii)
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
UNLV 45, Fresno State 20
UNLV: Lexington Thomas 1 run (Evan Pantels kick), 10:11. Drive: 14 plays, 70 yards, 5:55. UNLV 7, Fresno State 0.
FS: Aaron Peck 15 pass from Chason Virgil (Kody Kroening kick), 8:40. Drive: 4 plays, 76 yards, 1:25. UNLV 7, Fresno State 7.
UNLV: Charles Williams 5 run (Pantels kick), 5:44. Drive: 7 plays, 69 yards, 2:46. UNLV 14, Fresno State 7.
UNLV: Elijah Trosclair 61 pass from Dalton Sneed (Pantels kick), 2:56. Drive: 2 plays, 67 yards, 0:27. UNLV 21, Fresno State 7.
FS: FG Kroening, 8:39. Drive: 9 plays, 52 yards, 4:22. UNLV 21, Fresno State 10.
UNLV: Sneed 91 run (Pantels kick), 7:38. Drive: 3 plays, 90 yards, 1:01. UNLV 28, Fresno State 10.
UNLV: FG Pantels 38, 1:40. Drive: 9 plays, 54 yards, 4:41. UNLV 31, Fresno State 10.
FS: Aaron Peck 80 pass from Chason Virgil (Kroening kick), 1:17. Drive: 1 play, 80 yards, 0:14. UNLV 31, Fresno State 17.
FS: FG Kroening 47, 11:17. Drive: 10 plays, 38 yards, 3:35. UNLV 31, Fresno State 20.
UNLV: David Greene 9 run (Pantels kick), 2:29. Drive: 3 plays, 56 yards, 1:08. UNLV 38, Fresno State 20.
UNLV: Greene 16 run (Pantels kick), 1:32. Drive: 2 plays, 24 yards, 0:17. UNLV 45, Fresno State 20.
TIME OF POSSESSION
Rushing: Fresno State, Dontel James 18-53, Jamire Jordan 6-17, Virgil 8-(-5). UNLV, Williams 18-153, Sneed 15-147, David Greene 3-27, L. Thomas 15-1, D. Woods Jr. 1-11, X. Campbell 1-8.
Passing: Fresno State, Virgil 16-45-1-296. UNLV, Sneed 8-16-0-129.
Receiving: Fresno State, Peck 5-194, KeeSean Johnson 5-57, Jordan 2-10, Michael Martnes 1-14, Delvon Hardaway 1-12, Justin Allen 1-8, Virgil 1-1. UNLV, Devonte Boyd 3-45, D. Woods JR. 2-20, E. Trosclair 1-61, Andrew Price 1-6, L. Thomas 1-(-4).