Much of the run-up to Fresno State’s Mountain West Conference opener against Nevada focused on the Wolf Pack defense and its 3-3-5 alignment. The Bulldogs had been stymied by teams playing it in the past.
But quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who took No. 1 reps in practice all week and replaced Chason Virgil in the starting lineup, was unconcerned.
He had history not just against a 3-3-5, but against Nevada defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. It was repeated in a 41-21 victory before 27,434 on Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium, the first win for Fresno State over an FBS opponent in more than a year.
“I didn't have to do too much. I mean, I didn't have to go out of my comfort zone and try to be a playmaker and do too much. I was just out there,” McMaryion said. “Guys were making plays for me and I was just playing within the offense and not trying to do too much.
“I was just really proud of all the skill guys and the offensive line, they were doing a great job up front keeping me upright. Credit to all those guys.”
Fresno State, 1-11, a year ago but 2-2 this season, last had a bowl subdivision, and conference win, on Nov. 14, 2015, at Hawaii, 42-14.
But McMaryion, a graduate transfer from Oregon State, hit on his first 12 throws including a 10-yard touchdown to KeeSean Johnson on the Bulldogs’ opening drive.
That was not the end of the Bulldogs’ domination in bolting to a 31-0 lead before getting sloppy late in the second quarter and giving Nevada a boost back into the game.
The Bulldogs’ defense put a three-and-out on Nevada (0-5) three times in its first seven series and put up points when cornerback Jaron Bryant picked off a pass and returned it 18 yards for a score that put Fresno State up 24-0.
They had allowed only 93 yards of offense before Nevada scored two touchdowns in the final 2:08 of the first half, taking advantage of a busted coverage and a turnover.
Bryant had a second interception in the fourth quarter and Johnny Johnson also had one, the Bulldogs’ picking off Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi three times.
“He did a nice job,” coach Jeff Tedford said of Bryant, the interceptions the first of his career. “Well, they threw the ball right to him on the one. He didn’t have to do much there. But I thought he did a great job on the second one, breaking on the ball and going to the high point, keeping his feet inbounds.”
The Bulldogs didn’t run the ball particularly well early, but the offensive line pounded out 156 rushing yards on 26 plays (6.0 per attempt) in the second half and had another solid game in pass protection against that 3-3-5, allowing McMaryion time to work through his progressions and find open receivers.
Nevada came in leading the Mountain West and tied for fourth in the nation with 35 tackles for loss, 8.8 per game. It had six against the Bulldogs, one on a busted play and one a sack when McMaryion held onto the ball too long in the red zone.
That was one of very few mistakes the Bulldogs’ quarterback made in his first Fresno State start. The former Dinuba High star ended up 24 of 32 for 296 yards with two touchdowns.
The history, by the way? Casteel was defensive coordinator at Arizona last season and matched up against McMaryion and the Beavers in November.
In that game, he completed 16 of 19 passes for 265 yards and five touchdowns in leading Oregon State to a 42-17 victory.
FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 4:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium (30,456)
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2, 1-0 Mountain West; Spartans 1-5, 0-2
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Spartans are off to a slow start under first-year coach Brent Brennan, losing 41-13 Saturday night at UNLV. That lone victory came against Cal Poly, a championship subdivision program. San Jose State began this week ranked last in the conference in scoring offense (16.4 ppg) and scoring defense (45.2 ppg).
Fresno State 41, Nevada 21
FRE — Kee.Johnson 10 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), 13:21
FRE — FG Camacho 29, :00
FRE — Kee.Johnson 16 pass from Hokit (Camacho kick), 13:12
FRE — Bryant 18 interception return (Camacho kick), 5:05
FRE — Kee.Johnson 40 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), 2:08
NEV — Demps 17 pass from Gangi (Pettit kick), :54
NEV — Armstrong 21 pass from Gangi (Pettit kick), :35
FRE — Rivers 5 run (Camacho kick), 7:58
FRE — FG Camacho 27, 2:44
NEV — B.Wright 2 run (Pettit kick), :23
Time of Possession
RUSHING — Nevada, Moore 5-26, B.Wright 3-22, Kincaide 5-14, Mannix 1-2, Celis 1-2, Henley 1-0, Gangi 7-(minus 5). Fresno State, Rivers 12-82, Mims 10-52, Hokit 5-29, D.Scott 1-15, McMaryion 6-14, Grim 1-5, Mitchell 0-0, O’Neal 1-(minus 1), (Team) 2-(minus 4).
PASSING — Nevada, Henley 0-1-0-0, Gangi 31-48-3-253. Fresno State Hokit 1-1-0-16, McMaryion 24-32-1-296.
RECEIVING — Nevada, Demps 10-96, Mannix 6-68, Kincaide 5-21, O’Leary-Orange 3-18, Celis 2-17, Armstrong 1-21, B.Scott 1-5, Henley 1-5, Carter-Wells 1-2, Robins 1-0. Fresno State, Kee.Johnson 7-109, D.Scott 4-50, O’Neal 3-25, Hokit 3-25, Grim 2-69, Rivers 2-24, Jordan 1-14, Riddering 1-3, N.Parker 1-1, Mims 1-(minus 3).
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Nevada, Ahmed 45. Fresno State, Camacho 32, Camacho 43.