Fresno State didn't make it easy -- at least not early on.
And first-quarter struggles remain a huge issue as the Bulldogs head into the Mountain West Conference portion of the schedule.
But once Fresno State made a big play -- a Kyrie Wilson interception for a touchdown -- the rest of the team finally began to play like defending back-to-back conference champs en route a 56-16 victory Saturday night against Southern Utah.
Fresno State rushed for 389 yards and threw for 305 while using three quarterbacks. And Wilson scored at a critical moment that ignited Fresno State's 35-0 run before an announced crowd of 32,645 at Bulldog Stadium.
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Though the win comes against a lower-level Football Championship Subdivision program, Fresno State and its fans jubilantly celebrated during the postgame fireworks show after starting the year with three straight blowout defeats to Power 5 conference opponents.
"We haven't had much fun the first three weeks," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "It was kind of palpable. Guys are pressing a little bit. But we've got some really good leaders that stood up that said, 'Hey I'll find ways. I'll make plays.' Nobody was finger pointing, but we just weren't clicking the right way.
"And finally we got to a point where we were clicking. Guys started having fun again and that's what we've got to get back to. ... We didn't start off real well. But we hung in there, found a way to win."
Fresno State still doesn't appear to have a clear choice at quarterback as DeRuyter had hoped to establish by Mountain West play.
In fact, the quarterback race might have gotten a bit murkier after redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee played for the first time in his career and threw an 81-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Junior Brian Burrell got the start for the fourth straight week and the offense again was held scoreless in the first quarter.
Burrell got off to what has become his usual slow start, which led to an earlier hook in favor of primary backup Brandon Connette. But Burrell played better after re-entering late in the second quarter.
He completed 13 of 20 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. The highlight of his night came when he returned late in the second quarter and moved the Bulldogs 65 yards in eight plays totaling 1 minute, 15 seconds. The drive was capped by Burrell's 4-yard pass to Chad Olsen. Burrell earlier hit Delvon Hardaway for 32 yards.
"I realize that we have not been starting off well and that's something (I need) to work on," Burrell said. "A large part of it is me. I need to be better than that in the beginning."
Connette came in with 4:37 left in the first quarter and the game scoreless. Burrell was coming off an interception on a high throw that was tipped then corralled by Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew.
Connette didn't play last week against Nebraska because of a hand injury. And the previous times he came off the bench, Fresno State already had trailed 24-0 and 17-0.
Once again, Connette managed to provide an immediate spark. Fresno State quickly moved 35 yards and into scoring range. But the drive was halted at the Southern Utah 32 after the Bulldogs failed on fourth-and-1.
As the game progressed, Connette's nagging hand injury became more apparent, with the Duke transfer missing intended targets by a wide margin on a few downfield throws.
Connette did lead a nine-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Josh Harper that gave Fresno State its first lead of the season -- 7-3 with 5:55 left in the half. Connette was 5 of 11 for 51 yards and the one touchdown.
Greenlee completed 4 of 7 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, which came on an 81-yard hookup to Da'Mari Scott with 11:29 remaining.
The play that seemed to spark the Bulldogs most, though, was Wilson's interception. He ran it back 23 yards for a touchdown that put Fresno State ahead 14-9.
The Bulldogs' defense still was vulnerable to deep balls, with Southern Utah connecting on a 32-yard pass, a 28-yarder on third-and-8, one for 61 yards, and a 77-yard touchdown pass.
But Fresno State answered back with big plays. The special teams blocked a punt early in the third that led to another touchdown. And a forced fumble on Southern Utah's next drive produced a TD.
"It's our first win of the season and when you go out there and make plays, you remember what you can do," said Harper, a senior and key member of last year's 11-2 team.
"We showed each other that we can make plays and move the ball. And the defense can make stops and the team can make plays on special teams.
"So it was a real big confidence booster for the whole team."