The drive covered just 29 yards and four plays, but the result was a touchdown and an oddity for Fresno State.
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion hit KeeSean Johnson with a 10-yard pass, the wideout making a stellar play in stalking and securing the football against coverage, and with that score in a 41-21 victory over Nevada the Bulldogs had their first touchdown on an opening drive in 13 games and only their second in 22.
That could just be an outlier, given the history. That could also be a marker for a program under development, the Bulldogs taking the standard and attention to detail stressed on the practice field into a game and seeing some needed results.
They’re getting it. Every week when we put in a new plan you see things every day getting better and better. That’s the way we want it to be all the time, but especially here in these early weeks of the first year. It’s even more important.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer
“The process is big and then when we come out here on game day we let them cut it loose and bring the energy and the effort and all that kind of stuff,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
“But it’s about execution. That’s all the preparation that comes during the week that’s at a high standard. We push them hard and grind to make sure we pay attention to the details and then hopefully that carries over into the game.”
It did for the Bulldogs against Nevada starting with the opening kickoff, which Jamire Jordan popped for 71 yards with some big blocks along the way.
Four plays later, McMaryion had the Bulldogs in the end zone.
But getting there has been both painful and fun for the Bulldogs, who are recovering from a 1-11 season.
The last time Fresno State had scored a touchdown on an opening drive it was a fluky 44-yard run by Jordan last season in a 48-41 overtime loss to Tulsa.
On the first play from scrimmage, Chason Virgil tried to hit Jordan on a quick screen on the left sideline, but the pass was low and skipped off the turf. Jordan, set behind the line of scrimmage, scooped up the ball on one hop and raced to the end zone.
On the stat sheet, the play went down as a rush for no gain for Virgil, a fumble by Virgil, a team forced fumble for Tulsa, a fumble recovery by Jordan, a 44-yard run for Jordan and a first down and a touchdown for the Bulldogs.
Before that there was a more conventional 12-play, 83-yard drive in a 31-28 victory over UNLV in 2015 that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kilton Anderson.
Between that score and the touchdown Saturday, they had the one touchdown and one field goal, but had gone three-and-out 10 times and had only two opening drives that went for 50 or more yards.
Two of those three-and-out series came against Sacramento State and Incarnate Word, championship subdivision programs.
Their longest drive by yards, 89, generated no points. Fresno State in a loss to San Jose State last season made it all of the way to the Spartans 6-yard line, but on fourth down a pass by punter Blake Cusick off a fake field goal attempt went awry.
The longest drive by plays, 13, also produced no points. The Bulldogs used 13 to go 46 yards in a loss at Nebraska last season but missed a 32-yard field goal try.
Quick hits – San Jose State linebacker Frank Ginda was the first player in the nation to rack up 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 tackles and is leading the nation with 14.5 per game.
Fresno State is averaging 6.1 yards per play, fifth in the Mountain West Conference. The past two seasons the Bulldogs were ranked last when averaging 4.7 and 4.6 yards per play and in 2014 they were 11th when averaging 5.2 yards per play.
In two Mountain West games, a loss to Utah State and a loss at UNLV, he has 14 within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage and 1.5 tackles for loss.
▪ The Spartans have 48 freshmen on the roster and 14 on the depth chart this week. Fresno State has 21 freshmen on its roster, six on the depth chart.
▪ McMaryion is the first Bulldogs quarterback to win his debut as a starter since they have been in the Mountain West, which is not surprising given the results the past few years.
What is surprising is that there have been so many of them – seven over the past four seasons with Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee in 2014, Chason Virgil, Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson in 2015 and Zach Kline in 2016 preceding McMaryion.
▪ McMaryion targeted wideouts 21 times last week, going 15 of 21 (71.4 percent) for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s 11.3 yards per play and an efficiency rating of 188.53.
The Spartans, though, are stronger in the secondary with cornerbacks Andre Chachere and Jermaine Kelly.
Chachere, a Clovis West grad, will start his 28th career game Saturday and this season has one interception, one pass breakup and one tackle for loss.
Kelly, a transfer from Washington, has one interception and four breakups and returned that pick against Utah State for 68 yards for a touchdown.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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, 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).