They led with the run, right from the start Saturday night. The Fresno State Bulldogs put the football in the hands of running back Marteze Waller and their offensive line, opened with a 7-yard run then a 4-yard run for a first down. Quarterback Brian Burrell went for 9 yards and then on a third-and-1, Waller blasted his way over the right side of the line for 44 yards and a touchdown.
It was part plan, part reaction and every bit a challenge to the line.
"We came into this game knowing that we were going to have to run the ball," right guard Cody Wichmann said.
"These guys came in with the No. 1 passing defense in the country and as an offensive line we knew that it was game time for us. We really had to shine, and we did."
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The Bulldogs, behind that run game, put an end to a three-game losing streak with a 38-24 victory over San Jose State and a little more juice into their run at a third consecutive Mountain West Conference championship. They will go into a bye week 4-6 and 3-3 in conference play and a San Diego State loss away from again controlling their destiny in the West Division race.
Fresno State ran the ball on its first eight plays over two series, with Waller churning out 106 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter before going down just before halftime with a shoulder injury. The Bulldogs didn't stop there. Senior Juice Quezada, who had been struggling over the past four games with only 25 rushing yards on 16 plays, took over rushing the football in the second half.
Waller, who will be evaluated on Sunday, finished with 145 yards and one touchdown on 22 plays, his fourth game in a row with 100 or more yards and sixth in seven. Quezada added 112 yards on 24 carries.
The Bulldogs ran the ball 53 times in all, gaining 232 yards, a total that would be higher if not for three team losses for 14 yards taking a knee at the end of the game. The 53 rushing plays were the most this season against a football subdivision opponent. And they put them in a rhythm early.
"I haven't been that tired in quite a while, but we knew what we had to do and it doesn't matter how tired you are, you have to put your head down and do it. ... The physical part is what I love," Wichmann said.
"It was fun. It definitely was fun. If it works, it works, just keep going with it," right tackle Justin Northern said.
The plan going in wasn't necessarily to run the ball, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. But the Spartans, who came in ranked ninth of 12 in the Mountain West in rushing defense at 230.9 yards per game, tied for 10th with 23 rushing touchdowns allowed with 23 and 11th in allowing 5.4 yards per rushing play, never gave them reason to stop and that only opened up offense for the Bulldogs.
"I think Marteze is really playing well and we were run blocking pretty well," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We wanted to take some pressure off the quarterback position and if you can run it well, now it opens up your passing game. We just thought we had a good matchup there."
With that run game fronting the offense, Burrell, back in the starting lineup after getting benched in a loss to Wyoming, hit 20 of 26 passes for 207 yards including touchdowns of two yards to freshman tight end Chad Olsen and 18 and 19 yards to wide out Josh Harper.
That 76.9% completion percentage came after a 53.8% coming off the bench in the loss to Wyoming, a 52.0% in a loss at Boise State, a 56.8% in a loss at UNLV and a 50% in a victory over San Diego State.
"That's what our offense right now is good at, so we're going to capitalize on it," center Bo Bonnheim said. "But our receivers, they stepped up this game. So did Brian, and I'm proud of them.
"We wanted to get to 250 yards rushing and we got close. But we got the win and that's all that matters, no matter how we get the scores."