Fresno State had lost nine in a row away from home and often wasn’t close. The Bulldogs dropped those games by an average of 28.7 points, so breaking the streak didn’t figure to be easy no matter who was on the opposite sideline.
But on Saturday it was San Jose State, a run, pass and defense-challenged team that had not had a lead in a game since Sept. 2.
The Bulldogs still had problems, though, and even after a solid first half were getting close to uncomfortable before a stellar defense closed out a 27-10 victory at CEFCU Stadium to reclaim the Valley Trophy.
That defense allowed only 205 yards of offense, forced four turnovers and racked up nine tackles for loss.
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“The coaches demand more of us. They’re not letting us slack,” said defensive tackle Malik Forrester, who had six tackles, including three for losses with two sacks. “They’re pushing us past our limits and we’re just playing more aggressive.
“We not taking nothing from nobody this year. We’re not putting up with it. We’re making a statement. The old Fresno State football style is back.”
The old Fresno State style included offense as well. But the Bulldogs struggled mightily there, and much of the damage was self-inflicted.
Fresno State (3-2, 2-0 Mountain West) effectively bludgeoned the Spartans in the first half, using its run game and a stellar defense that allowed 79 yards of total offense and three first downs.
Bulldogs freshman Ronnie Rivers, who rushed for a career-high 105 yards on 19 plays, scored on runs of 15 and 3 yards. Josh Hokit added a touchdown on a 1-yard run.
But in the second half, the Bulldogs struggled to move the football against a defense that came in ranked last in the conference in rushing, total and scoring defense.
“It’s always nice to come away with a victory, but we can get a lot better,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “It’s great to bring the trophy home. That’s something we talked about all week. We take pride in that and how history is going to record the 2017 team in this rivalry.
“The guys found a way to win, which is probably something we needed, to stumble a little bit and wake up, because we didn’t play very well on offense in the second half.”
Fresno State in the third quarter went three-and-out on its three possessions, generating 32 yards. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion, in his second start for the Bulldogs, hit 4 of 6 passes but those completions added up to just 9 yards.
The Spartans (1-6, 0-3), who had not run a play on the Fresno State side of the field in the first half, got off zero after the second of those three-and-outs when Josh Love hit tight end Josh Oliver with a 6-yard touchdown pass.
The Bulldogs lacked much response.
Even given a short field – safety Juju Hughes got to Love on a blitz and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Emeka Ndoh at the 21-yard line – McMaryion and the Bulldogs couldn’t find the end zone.
McMaryion misfired on three consecutive passes to Derrion Grim, Da’Mari Scott and Jared Rice, and Fresno State settled for a 38-yard field goal by Jimmy Camacho.
The Bulldogs had another short field after recovering an offsides kick following a San Jose State field goal that cut their lead to 24-10. But, starting at the 38-yard line, they gained 5 yards on three plays and Camacho nailed a 50-yard field goal.
Fresno State in the second half could muster just 63 yards on 28 plays, 2.3 yards per play. It had 285 yards at halftime, averaging 5.8 yards per play.
In that second half it was pretty much up to the defense, and it put down two San Jose State drives with fumble recoveries, a third with a punt and allowed a field goal. Then, the Bulldogs made off with that trophy, which was on a table behind the north end zone.
“It feels good, man,” said Hughes, who along with the forced fumble had an interception in the first half. “We’ve all been working hard. We’ve been grinding. Coach Tedford and the new coaching staff, they’ve been working us hard. It all just feels so good to put it all together finally and to see what’s happening from it.”
Check back for more on the game throughout the weekend and in Monday’s edition of The Bee.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEW MEXICO AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 3-2, 2-0 Mountain West; Lobos 3-2, 1-1
- Webcast/radio: AT&T, ROOT/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: New Mexico had a bye week following a 56-38 victory over Air Force, its second win in a row. The Lobos went into the weekend averaging 266.8 rushing yards per game, third in the Mountain West. Running back Richard McQuarley tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in the victory over Air Force and is leading the Lobos’ attack, averaging 5.9 yards per play and 60.2 yards per game.
Fresno State 27, San Jose State 10
San Jose State
FRE — Rivers 15 run (Camacho kick), 6:06
FRE — Rivers 3 run (Camacho kick), 2:24
FRE — Hokit 1 run (Camacho kick), :35
SJS — Oliver 6 pass from Love (Crawford kick), 6:24
FRE — FG Camacho 38, 13:40
SJS — FG Crawford 51, 8:36
FRE — FG Camacho 50, 6:14
SAN JOSE STATE
Time of Possession
RUSHING — Fresno State, Rivers 19-105, Mims 12-49, Hokit 10-43, McMaryion 8-24, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Jordan 1-(minus 7). San Jose State, Nevens 21-99, Zigler 5-25, Roberson 1-7, Packer 2-1, Love 4-(minus 24).
PASSING — Fresno State, McMaryion 15-26-0-136. San Jose State, Blackwell 0-1-1-0, Love 15-25-1-97.
RECEIVING — Fresno State, D.Scott 7-45, Rivers 4-15, K.Johnson 2-52, Jordan 2-24. San Jose State, Blackwell 5-41, Holmes 4-23, Oliver 4-19, Jere.Kelly 1-8, T.Walker 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.