Marek Warszawski

Warszawski: For Fresno State football, the thrill is gone, replaced by serious flaws

Anyone, anytime, anywhere doesn't mean anything anymore.

For the second straight week, the Bulldogs traveled to the home of a Pac-12 opponent. And for the second straight week, they got walked on like a doormat.

There are two ways to explain Saturday's 59-27 bulldozing by Utah before 45,864 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which wasn't all that different from the USC debacle seven days prior.

You can either tell yourself: "Well, Fresno State isn't supposed to able to compete with these teams. It won't be like this when the Bulldogs play UNLV and Wyoming."

Or this: "The Bulldogs can't cover, they can't tackle and have no offensive identity."

Both contain nuggets of truth.

"We've got to get better," a somber Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We've got Nebraska coming in this weekend, and we've got to get this thing fixed.

"We're going to get it fixed."

I'm not sure the Bulldogs can get it fixed in time for Nebraska, and I say that knowing full well the Cornhuskers barely escaped against McNeese State.

Right now Fresno State has some serious flaws that any college football team can expose. Especially one with a capable quarterback and swift receivers.

Live blog replay: Utah 59, Fresno State 27

Dating to last season, Saturday marked the fourth time in five games the Bulldogs have surrendered at least 45 points and 487 or more (sometimes many more) yards.

With eight returning starters, defense was supposed to be this team's strength. At least until the offense, minus Derek Carr, found its footing.

That hasn't happened. Not even close. And you can't just rationalize it based on the level of competition.

Fresno State QB Brandon Connette makes impact at Utah, but isn't the starter yet

On Utah's first play from scrimmage, cornerback Bryan Harper gave receiver Dres Anderson more cushion than a pillow factory -- and still managed to get beat for 41 yards down the sideline.

Tell me where you've seen that before. Oh, yeah: last week.

Then there was that fourth-and-1 play from the Fresno State 24-yard line. Perhaps the Bulldogs expected Utah to run, but that's no excuse for leaving tight end Westlee Tonga uncovered.

In 17 career starts, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson had never thrown more than three touchdown passes. He had four against the Bulldogs ... by halftime.

Missed tackles continue to be a problem. I don't like picking on Harper, but he had two blatant whiffs in the first half that extended Utah drives.

Defensive coordinator Nick Toth called the tackling "horrible, horrible" but cautioned against making any judgments based on two games.

That's fair. Still, the Bulldogs haven't exactly provided any contrary evidence.

One switch that I suspect will be made this week is moving Charles Washington to cornerback -- permanently -- while elevating Dalen Jones to starting strong safety.

From what I can tell, Washington is Fresno State's best corner. He's also their best strong safety, but cornerback is the more glaring weakness.

Afterward, I asked the typically even-keeled Toth if it was time for him to get angry.

"I'm always upset when we're not playing to our potential, and I don't think we've gotten close," Toth said. "Is some of that us playing poorly? Yeah. Is some of that the level of competition? Yeah. But we know what we need to fix."

Here's something else the Bulldogs need to fix: the quarterback rotation.

Starting now, Brandon Connette should be the starter ahead of Brian Burrell. There is little doubt Fresno State is a different offense with him behind center.

Too bad he didn't enter the game until it was already 17-0.

Connette didn't have a spectacular day (16 of 24 for 177 yards and a touchdown, plus 40 yards on the ground) but was responsible for all eight of the first-half first downs.

"I thought Brandon did a much better job taking care of the ball, and our offense began to move when he came in," DeRuyter said.

By contrast, with Burrell at quarterback, the Bulldogs started the game with five straight three-and-outs.

Not all of that was Burrell's fault. Fresno State had a couple dropped passes and gave up consecutive sacks. One of them came after center Bo Bonnheim snapped the ball on the wrong count.

Still, the Bulldogs seemed to run harder and block better with Connette in the huddle.

DeRuyter said he'd wait to watch the film before making a decision. It should be a quick session. Connette is clearly the guy, and the sooner DeRuyter makes it official the better.

Fresno State's third-year head coach has a ton on his plate this week. Besides personnel moves and fixing physical errors, DeRuyter must shore up his team's mental state.

The Bulldogs won 20 games and two Mountain West Conference championships in DeRuyter's first two seasons. But after back-to-back blowouts, getting his players back in the right state of mind may be his biggest challenge yet.

"Yeah, you start to worry about the team's psyche," DeRuyter said. "We're going to have to practice very well this week to get our guys back. We'll get our guys back. I have confidence. But it is a concern. Because every year you have a brand-new team, and every year new guys have got to step up."

It clearly is a new year at Fresno State. So far, nothing like the previous two.

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