For starters, something easily digestible. Fresno State averaged 5.9 yards per play in a wrenching loss at Nevada and that’s a solid number – in 2012 and ’13, when the Bulldogs were winning back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships, there were 12 games they didn’t get there and it is in fact by the tiniest of margins their best output against a FBS opponent in 24 games, since averaging 6.3 yards per play in an overtime loss at UNLV in 2014.
The only time they were close – really close – was last season in a victory over the Rebels. In that game, it was 5.94202898. In this game, it was 5.94736842.
So, there were positives, on both sides of the football. But the rest of a 27-22 loss to the Wolf Pack must be sickening to the stomach for the Bulldogs, who were left four yards short of a winning touchdown at the end and made some terrible mistakes along the way in getting there.
2 Wins by Fresno State in its past 18 games against FBS opponents; Bulldogs are 0-5 this season.
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Dropped passes, blown coverages, missed tackles, assignment errors. Penalties? There were four in the first half, five in all, and just look at the impact in the first half …
The Bulldogs have Nevada in a third-and-10 when outside linebacker James Bailey sacks quarterback Tyler Stewart for a loss of 10 yards. But Bailey is called for a personal foul for making a horse-collar tackle, a call that was a bit suspect. He would have been better off trying to turn Stewart’s uniform number to 105 instead of 15 by drilling a hole right through the middle of his back, but with a first down from the penalty the Wolf Pack goes on to score its first touchdown, taking a 7-3 lead.
Fresno State has a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line and after a rushing play goes nowhere, left tackle Christian Cronk is flagged on second down for a false start and set back five yards as the drive stalls. They end up kicking a field goal.
The Bulldogs have Nevada in a third-and-3 at their 14-yard line, one play from forcing a field-goal attempt. But cornerback Jamal Ellis is called for pass interference, the Wolf Pack gets an automatic first and goes on to score its second touchdown to go up 14-6.
We’ve got to make plays. Players make plays. Coaches coach. They coach us right all week, and we just didn’t fit it right. We’ve got to keep grinding, keep fighting.
Fresno State free safety Stratton Brown
Fresno State gains possession at its 25 after the ensuing kickoff goes for a touchback and on first down Chason Virgil hits Jamire Jordan with a short pass and he rockets off for a 75-yard touchdown, but the play is called back by a holding penalty on wide out Aaron Peck.
Four plays right there, all of them costing the Bulldogs points one way or the other.
“We asked our guys the last few weeks to play extremely hard, and our guys are doing that,” Coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’re giving great effort. We’re just not playing very smart at times. We’re one or two plays away from winning a football game, even with all the mistakes. It makes you sick how close we are and yet we can’t find a way to get over the top.
“Those are plays that you can’t do and beat a team on the road. We have to eliminate those and learn from them and realize that if we just don’t shoot ourselves in the foot we’d be 1-1 getting ready to play San Diego State.”
And that is not even the roughest play to hold down.
After closing to 27-22 with 5:08 to go, the Bulldogs executed almost perfectly on a 2-point conversion attempt that would have gotten them within a field goal, and how would that last series have played out had DeRuyter had a potential tying chip shot field goal in his back pocket, if necessary?
Peck, lined up to the right of the Bulldogs’ formation, crossed to the left just inside the goal line and was uncovered. Tight end Kyle Riddering, who was attached on the right side of the line inside of Peck, was running basically the same route along the back end line and he also was uncovered. Virgil, with plenty of time to set and fire and two wide open receivers, bounced the throw.
We asked our guys the last few weeks to play extremely hard, and our guys are doing that. We’re giving great effort. We’re just not playing very smart at times. We’re one or two plays away from winning a football game, even with all the mistakes.
Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter
“It’s little things like that,” DeRuyter said. “It’s one play there. It’s a holding call on a 75-yard touchdown pass … We’ve shown some growth, but we have to play smarter in order to win a football game.”
Last gasp – On the Bulldogs’ last shot, fourth-and-goal from the Nevada 4-yard line, they came out of a timeout with two tight ends, one running back and two wide outs.
The wide outs were KeeSean Johnson and Peck, first and second on the team in receptions.
The running back was Dontel James, who had just two catches this season for six yards.
The tight ends were Riddering and David Tangipa, who had one catch between them.
All five ran routes and the Bulldogs had five to block four, but the play broke down fairly quickly. Peck drew a safety as well as a cornerback going to the back right corner. The tight ends were in the middle of the field, covered between three defenders. James circled left out of the backfield and with Virgil escaping pressure to the left Johnson tried to get to the back left corner, but couldn’t get there.
Fresno State churned out 255 rushing yards against a Nevada defense that was 11th in the Mountain West against the run. The going gets much tougher this week against San Diego State. The Aztecs are second in the conference, allowing 3.0 yards per play and 102.0 yards per game.
“A lot of the stuff we ran, we knew it would work on them,” said Jordan, who wasn’t on the field for that final play. “Some of the plays, they just executed better than we did.”
Et cetera – Virgil completed 16 of 27 passes, 59.3 percent. Zach Kline missed on his only throw, making the Bulldogs 16 of 28, 57.1 percent. That, surprisingly, or maybe not, is a season high for Fresno State.
Since Derek Carr moved on to the NFL, the Bulldogs have played 32 games and their quarterbacks have completed 60 percent of their passes just six times.
There are 57 teams in the nation at this point completing at least 60 percent of their passes.
▪ The Bulldogs had no three-and-outs in 10 series. In their first four games against FBS opponents, they had five three-and-outs in 12 series at Nebraska, 10 in 15 series at Toledo, five in 20 series against Tulsa and three in 15 series at UNLV, or 23 in 62, 37.1 percent of their drives.
▪ Fresno State became the fourth Mountain West team to lose this season when rushing for 250 or more yards – New Mexico has two losses, UNLV and Utah State have one.
The Bulldogs had won their last eight games when rushing for 250 or more yards, the last loss coincidentally at Nevada on Nov. 13, 2010, when going for 250 on 41 plays in a 35-34 loss.
▪ On its last touchdown drive to go up 27-16, Nevada ran the football on 13 consecutive plays. The Wolf Pack averaged 6.5 yards on six first-down runs and faced a third-and-1 and a third-and-3.
The 14th play of the drive was a pass, a touchdown from Stewart to Wyatt Demps.
“We’ve got to make plays,” free safety Stratton Brown said. “Players make plays. Coaches coach. They coach us right all week, and we just didn’t fit it right. We’ve got to keep grinding, keep fighting. The season’s not over. We’ve got a good team next week.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
SAN DIEGO STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Aztecs 4-1, 1-0 in MW, Bulldogs 1-5, 0-2
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)