The Fresno State Bulldogs’ defense has been very good this season creating breaks, coming up with a big play when needed, but a little help never hurts.
They got a lot of it before heading back out onto the field to preserve a 20-13 victory over BYU on Saturday that made them bowl eligible for the first time since 2014, that help coming off the right foot of punter Blake Cusick.
Up seven with 3:27 to go, the Bulldogs had to kick the ball back to the Cougars and Cusick unleashed a missile. It went 64 yards, touched down inside the BYU 10 and was picked up there by Hiva Lee. He didn’t get far, didn’t get anywhere, before tackled by Bulldogs’ safety Mike Bell and cornerback Jaron Bryant.
If the Cougars were going to tie the score, they were going to have to go 95 yards to do it and the chances of that happening ... not good.
“That was a beautiful play,” said linebacker Jeffrey Allison, who led the Bulldogs with 14 tackles including six solo and one sack.
“Blake, he works hard every day of the week. He has a big role on this team and he did great. He put the defense in a great situation there. He’s really a main point to what the defense did. He’s one of us.”
Cusick definitely was a focal point in the Bulldogs’ sixth win. He had four kicks in the game, two of them traveling more than 50 yards and three of them landing inside the BYU 20, at the 17, the 7 and the 5 yard lines.
The third of four kicks, when backed up a bit, that one wasn’t his best. It went 37 yards. But when the Bulldogs needed it most, Cusick delivered.
“That last one was great,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “The one before that was not so hot. You see him in practice and he hits those big punts all the time so it’s like, ‘Come on man, do what you do,’ and he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.”
BYU, with a lot of field in front of them, hit a pass for 20 yards to Matt Bushman on first down. But Bell drilled the Cougars’ tight end, separating football from receiver, Allison was there to pounce on it and the Bulldogs were bowl eligible.
“It’s a great feeling,” Allison said. “Coming back home to play in front of our fans, to do what we do and finish games like coach Tedford preaches, it’s a great feeling to bring it back to the community and to let them know that we’re trying to do something special here and keep it going.”
Bell, on being bowl eligible: “It feels amazing right now. The guys in there were all loving it and all enjoying it, everyone is playing for each other right now. It’s just an amazing feeling in the locker room, it’s a great place to be right now.”
Tedford on BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, who was sidelined twice by injury: “He is an awesome competitor, I think the world of him and I have so much respect for him. I remember when he came back after his first injury a few weeks ago, he was pretty much playing on one leg but he is still competing. It didn’t surprise me that he came back in the second half, I knew he would come back because that is just the type of competitor he is. I hope he is not hurt too bad. I think he has a really bright future. He has NFL potential. He has a really quick release and he knows exactly what to do with the football. He is very accurate. I think he has a bright future with football at the next level.”
Tedford, on the loss to UNLV benefiting the Bulldogs: “No, I don’t know if I want to relive that ever again. Did it teach lessons? Yes it taught lessons of how things can happen if details turn sideways. Thankfully we didn’t turn the football over tonight and we came up with a critical turnover ourselves to kind of secure the game there.”
KeeSean Johnson on the Bulldogs’ goals: “A bowl game is a good feeling but knowing that we still have a season to play and being able to go to the Mountain West Championship, that is the main goal. That was our first goal but we accomplished one before the other.”
Thank you, very much
Down 20-13 and down to the Fresno State 26-yard line with 5:38 to go, BYU had a fourth-and-1 play to keep its drive and hopes of tying the score alive.
The Cougars averaged 5.4 yards per rush in the game – without two Fresno State sacks factored in – and 205-pound tailback Squally Canada averaged 7.0 yards on 12 plays. They had been able to pound out yards on the ground all game, but threw the football 43 times, which was 61.4 percent of their plays. They had a backup quarterback in the game in Beau Hoge, who had attempted 29 passes all season and would finish this game 3 of 10 and thought it best to throw it again there.
BYU spread the Bulldogs’ defense out, a formation they had used to get some big gains on the ground earlier in the game. But this time, Hoge rolled to his right and tried to get a pass to wideout Jonah Trinnaman.
The Bulldogs played it perfectly, with defensive end Tobenna Okeke fending off a block while forcing Hoge toward the sideline.
Linebacker George Helmuth also went with him and engaged a blocker as Hoge was setting up to throw. Helmuth was able to get into the air and deflect the pass.
It fell harmlessly to the ground.
By the numbers
33.3 – Fresno State went into the game first in the Mountain West and 22nd in the nation in third-down defense – opponents had converted 33 times in 108 plays, 30.6 percent.
BYU was 7 of 14, but only 1 of 3 in the fourth quarter.
134 – Yards for BYU in the second half.
10 – Pass breakups by the Bulldogs, a team-high three by cornerback Tank Kelly. Safety Juju Hughes and Bryant both had two.
There’s this, from BYU coach Kalani Sitake: “I think Fresno State locked us up by playing a lot of man coverage, and that’s when we need receivers to step up. Receivers should hope the other team is playing man coverage, because it gives them the opportunity to make big plays.”
9 – Yards, the longest run by the Bulldogs. Fresno State averaged 3.4 yards on 40 rushing plays, its lowest since it averaged 2.6 yards a play in a loss at No. 1 Alabama.
0 – Turnovers by the Bulldogs. They are 3-0 with no turnovers.
7 – Touchdowns allowed by the Bulldogs over the past six games.
95.29 – Passing efficiency rating for BYU, the third time in five games the Bulldogs’ defense has held an opponent to 100 or lower.
San Jose State was 86.34 and San Diego State was 80.70.
10.8 – Yards per play when BYU rushed the football on first down.
336 – Yards for BYU, the most against Fresno State this season by a team not named Alabama or Washington.
The Bulldogs are now allowing just 311.3 yards per game – the last time they allowed less than 400 yards per game was 2012 when winning the first of back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT HAWAII
- Saturday: 8 p.m. PST at Aloha Stadium (50,000) in Honolulu
- Records: Bulldogs 6-3, 4-1 Mountain West; Rainbow Warriors 3-6, 1-5
- TV/radio: KSEE24/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Rainbow Warriors lost at UNLV on Saturday 31-23, the sixth time in seven games they have been held to 23 points or fewer. In the seventh game, they beat San Jose State 37-26. Hawaii went into that game ranked 10th in the Mountain West Conference in scoring defense, allowing 34.6 points per game, and has struggled mostly against the pass. Opponents had put up an efficiency rating of 172.32, last in the conference and 128th of 130 in the nation. UNLV passed for 281 yards, a season-high, in the victory over the Rainbow Warriors. And the Rebels are not exactly a strong passing team. In a loss to Utah State, they attempted 30 passes and completed only 13 for 85 yards. Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown completed 24 of 47 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown at UNLV, and ranks second in the conference in passing at 249.4 yards per game.