For Fresno State, there are similarities between last year’s game at Nebraska and last week’s at Alabama.
The Bulldogs made an impression in each football game, held up fairly well, hung around, and came away clutching at positives despite lopsided losses (by 33 and 31 points, respectively).
But a year ago it meant and led to nothing, and coach Jeff Tedford was quick to that point as the Bulldogs started preparations for the game Saturday at No. 6 Washington in which they will put their nascent credibility on the line.
Everybody is going to be telling you that you played hard and didn’t give up and all that happy (talk). But that’s not our goal. That’s not what we’re here to do.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
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“We made sure we talked about that,” said Tedford, who since his hire has tried to avoid any talk of the 1-11 season that led him back to his alma mater.
“OK, yeah, everybody is going to be telling you that you played hard and didn’t give up and all that happy (talk). But that’s not our goal. That’s not what we’re here to do.
“We learned about ourselves. Yeah, we have guys that will fight and have grit. Great. But that’s one part of the game. The rest of it is to execute to try to win games. There’s no satisfaction in just having people tell you, ‘Oh, you tried hard.’ ”
In the offensive line meeting room line, coach Ryan Grubb reinforced that by referencing the Nebraska game, in which the Bulldogs gave up four sacks and seven tackles for loss.
“I remember them telling that they felt they played hard and competed,” Grubb said. “I was like, ‘OK, what does that say for us for Week Three, then? Where are we going to take a step as a unit and as a program? You guys thought that last year ...’ ”
The question in taking on Washington is whether the Bulldogs can build on that effort against a Power Five opponent, which they didn’t a year ago.
Fresno State plays at No. 6 Washington on Saturday at Husky Stadium. The Huskies have not lost a non-conference home game since 2010, winning those matchups by an average of 29.8 points.
After a 43-10 loss at Nebraska, they came home and struggled to beat a championship subdivision team in Sacramento State , then didn’t win another game.
In the Bulldogs’ last eight games against Power Five opponents, ranked in the top 10 or not, Fresno State has lost by an average of 33.6 points. Washington is a 33.5-point favorite.
But with a bye week followed by the start of Mountain West play Sept. 30 at home against Nevada, if Fresno State can take another step forward against a second top-10 opponent in as many weeks it could alter its prospects in the conference.
San Diego State, which is 2-0 including a victory at Arizona State, is the class of the West Division and the two-time defending conference champion.
The rest of the division is a jumble – Nevada is 0-2, San Jose State 1-2 with a victory over FCS Cal Poly, UNLV 1-1 with a loss to FCS Howard, and Hawaii 2-1 with a win over FCS Western Carolina. The Bulldogs will play New Mexico, Wyoming and Boise State from the Mountain Division.
There should be no doubt in our mind that we can match up with any front out there.
Fresno State center Aaron Mitchell
“There should be no doubt in our mind that we can match up with any front out there,” said senior center Aaron Mitchell, one of the Bulldogs’ captains.
“I think we just have a different mindset. Nothing against last year. Nebraska, I thought we held our own, but we didn’t have as much success in the pocket passing as we did against Alabama. I think they’re a hell of a team, but I think this year we did better as a whole, as an offensive line and as an offense. There were times where they weren’t even in their pass rush and the ball was out of our hands.”
Mitchell had no definitive answer, but an inkling. But they all know that hanging in and hanging around isn’t enough.
“You can think, ‘We hung in there. We held our own. We lost by a big margin, but we played hard,’ ” he said. “But you don’t want to get on that standard. We don’t want to say, ‘It’s OK to play hard.’ We should be playing that hard every game.
“At the end of the day, (Alabama) had more points on the scoreboard than we did, but there were a lot of things to build off of and of course we’re better for it now. Hopefully we keep gaining on the little things that we had success and can pull out more wins later in the season.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada