Maybe there was a rush to judge Fresno State, after all.
The Bulldogs' early struggles in games (and to the season) as well as quarterback Brian Burrell's sluggish progression have been evident for months, but the Fresno State football team on Friday night showed it's much improved from what it showed initially.
Burrell enjoyed a breakout performance -- amassing 381 yards and four touchdowns -- and Fresno State overcame another scoreless first quarter along with two turnovers to defeat New Mexico 35-24 in both teams' Mountain West Conference opener.
Burrell, anointed the starter at the beginning of the week but not officially named to the spot until game time, completed 27 of 39 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns for his most productive game of the season. He also ran for 63 yards and another score.
"I was really happy," said Burrell, who made his fifth straight start. "I liked the balance. Every single person contributed. We ran the ball. We passed the ball. So I was really pleased.
"I felt more comfortable as the game went on. I think a lot of it is trusting my receivers, trusting myself. There were several times I just threw the ball to the receivers and they made plays."
The Bulldogs (2-3, 1-0) failed to score in the first quarter for the fifth straight game, though they got inside the New Mexico 35 twice. The first drive ended on a lost fumble, and the second was halted on a failed fourth-and-1 run.
Still, the slow start didn't faze the Bulldogs as Fresno State finished with 593 total yards and came up with eight explosive plays of at least 20 yards before New Mexico's announced homecoming crowd of 21,005 at University Stadium.
A week after rushing for 389 yards in a 56-16 blowout victory against Southern Utah, the Bulldogs again turned to the ground game and churned out 272. Marteze Waller rushed for 163 for an 8.6-yard average per carry.
The passing game also looked reliable attacking downfield for the first time this season with receivers Josh Harper, Aaron Peck and Greg Watson taking advantage of one-on-one coverage. Harper had a game-best 94 receiving yards and a touchdown.
"It was really encouraging," Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We knew we were capable of it. Last week's game helped our confidence. Going into this game, our guys felt we had a good beat on the game plan. We executed pretty well.
"I thought we moved the ball very, very well. And as we did, we got more confidence."
Fresno State's defense also got into rhythm and held New Mexico's run-intensive, triple-option offense to 256 total yards in the final three quarters after allowing 126 in the first quarter alone.
"You've just got to get a feel for the play calls, a feel for the linemen pulling, sliding, whatever their offensive tendencies," said Bulldogs linebacker Karl Mickelsen, who made a team-high 12 tackles. "In the option read (with) a team like this when everything is moving too fast, you've just got to slow everything down and play your game."
Charles Washington's switch to safety this week after starting at cornerback the previous two games paid big dividends for Fresno State as the junior came up with the play of the game.
Up 24-21, New Mexico (1-3, 0-1) intercepted a Burrell pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage and got the ball at the Fresno State 25 with a chance to go up two scores. But on fourth-and-1, Washington flew in to stop a quarterback keeper by Lamar Jordan, who got the start with Cole Gautsche sidelined (hamstring).
The Bulldogs responded with an 11-play, 81-yard drive that was highlighted by a 45-yard run by Burrell and capped by a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down by Josh Quezada for a 28-24 lead with 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
"That was probably the turning point in the ball game," DeRuyter said.
The Bulldogs, who began the year with three straight blowout losses to Power 5 Conference foes, are trying to become the first team in school history to start 0-3 and finish with a record above .500.
"We had a tough stretch early; we knew that," DeRuyter said. "We all knew the No. 1 goal was to win the Mountain West Conference. We're capable of competing for it. It'll play itself out as we go.
"Hopefully people got a chance to see us tonight and see we have a gritty team."