Fresno State captured a feel-good win on Saturday, beating Nevada 41-21, and for the Bulldogs it felt so good because it had been so long since they had taken down an opponent from the bowl subdivision or the Mountain West Conference.
That last victory was Nov. 14, 2015 at Hawaii, and the streak that went down was 15 games, which the Bulldogs lost by an average of 19.7 points.
There were other reasons, too, of course, starting with some credible quarterback play for one of the few times since Derek Carr was at Bulldog Stadium for something other than a jersey retirement ceremony. Marcus McMaryion, who started ahead of Chason Virgil, ripped off 12 consecutive completions to start the game and put together a passing efficiency rating of 167.07, one of the highest in the conference this season for a starting quarterback that attempted 20 or more passes.
He just has to play within himself and not force the football. Like I told him earlier (Saturday), ‘You don’t have to be Superman, just go through your progressions and make your reads.’
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford on quarterback Marcus McMaryion
McMaryion has the seventh highest rating for the game, but three of the six ahead of him came against opponents from the championship subdivision.
But the Bulldogs also have a lot to fix, which might be the best thing to come out of their victory. They beat a conference opponent by 20, and didn’t play particularly well.
Fresno State committed a season-high eight penalties. It had a season-high three turnovers. It was 1 of 11 converting on third-down.
The defense in an otherwise solid game gave up two touchdown passes in the final 2:08 before halftime, the second after one of those turnovers.
“No matter what we would have done, there is always learning points,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “We will continue to grind with that. A win is great, and the guys will feel great tonight, but tomorrow we will get back to reality about what we need to do better and that’s what we will coach next week.
“We will coach and we will grind and we will keep holding them to a high standard. I thought they tackled well tonight, I thought we had too many penalties tonight and we just didn’t play well enough overall. We will not let off the gas by any means.”
Finding the end zone – Of the top 15 receivers in the MW, only the Bulldogs’ KeeSean Johnson and Colorado State wideout Olabisi Johnson didn’t have a touchdown catch entering the weekend.
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 and the guys were making plays for me. I was just playing within the offense.
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion
After catching three against Nevada, Johnson is all the way up to a tie for fifth in the conference and only one behind four players tied for the lead.
The first of those TD receptions came on a 50-50 ball – something he had made a point of emphasis last off-season. Johnson, who drew a holding penalty on the play, had to adjust to a pass from McMaryion that was a bit under thrown and reach over the cornerback in coverage to make the catch.
“We practice the 50-50 ball during practice and I always tell the quarterbacks to have faith in me the same way I have faith in you,” he said.
Johnson, though the Bulldogs’ leading receiver, did not have a touchdown reception in the past six games or 11 of the past 12 games.
The last time he had caught a touchdown pass in a game, he also had three of them. That was a 31-21 loss last season to Air Force.
That’s a start – Fresno State had six players on offense make their first career starts – McMaryion, running backs Jordan Mims and Dejonte O’Neal, wideout Nanami Parker and tight end Jared Rice.
On defense, linebacker George Helmuth made the first start of his career and had 10 tackles in the game including four solo stops and one sack.
By the numbers – Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi came into the game at Fresno State having completed only 47.3 percent of his passes. He was 31 of 48 (64.6 percent) against the Bulldogs for 253 yards with two touchdowns but three interceptions.
The Wolf Pack did, though, average only 5.2 yards per pass attempt.
They have put in the work and the effort to get where they are. It is one win. We need to get a lot better. We have a long way to go.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
.090 – The Bulldogs’ third-down conversion percentage. They were 1 of 11 against the Wolf Pack and are now just 7 of 35 over the past three games, 20 percent.
Fresno State was just 1 of 4 on third-and-short plays.
5.1 – Yards per rush for the Bulldogs, who churned out 192 yards on 38 plays. That is their best mark this season (including Incarnate Word) and best since last playing Nevada.
Last season, Fresno State averaged 5.3 yards on 48 rushing plays in a loss in Reno.
In the nine games between the loss to and win over Nevada, they averaged less than four yards per rushing play seven times and less than three yards per play five times.
8 – Rushing plays of 10 or more yards by Fresno State, seven of them coming in the second half and four of them by freshman Ronnie Rivers, who rushed for 82 yards on 12 plays.
167.07 – The passing efficiency rating for McMaryion. Since 2013, when Derek Carr was leading the Bulldogs’ offense, Fresno State has had a higher rating in a game only twice against FBS opponents.
It had a 182.11 in a 2015 victory at Hawaii when Zack Greenlee was 20 of 35 for 285 yards and six touchdown passes and it had a 174.19 in a victory over San Jose State in 2014 when Brian Burrell was 20 of 26 for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
The top five efficiency ratings for a MW starting quarterback with 20 or more attempts.
▪ 275.84: Nick Stevens (Colorado State) at Hawaii
▪ 214.35: Kent Myers (Utah State) vs. Idaho State
▪ 186.10: Christian Chapman (San Diego State) vs. UC Davis
▪ 176.23 Josh Allen (Wyoming) vs. Texas State
▪ 175.48: Josh Allen (Wyoming) vs. Gardner-Webb
▪ 173.91: Dru Brown (Hawaii) at Massachusetts
▪ 167.07: Marcus McMaryion (Fresno State)
3 – Punts by the Bulldogs’ Blake Cusick. A year ago, Fresno State punted the ball away 80 times, tied for the seventh most in the nation.
71 – Jamire Jordan opened the game with a 71-yard kickoff return, the longest for the Bulldogs since A.J. Jefferson had a 92-yard return against Nevada in 2008.
0 – Three and outs for the Bulldogs, who ran 17 series in the game.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 4:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, Calif. (30,456)
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2, Spartans 1-5
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Spartans are off to a slow start under first-year coach Brent Brennan, opening the season 1-5 including a Mountain West loss on Saturday night at UNLV. That one victory came against Cal Poly, a championship subdivision program. San Jose State is ranked last in the conference in scoring offense (15.8 ppg) and scoring defense (44.5 ppg).