After his biggest win as Fresno State football coach, Jeff Tedford took a moment to deflect.
“It’s really not about me,” Tedford said after his Bulldogs bulldozed UCLA 38-14 on Saturday night before 60,867 at the Rose Bowl, sending Bruins fans home early and Fresno State fans into a state of delirium.
“It’s about our coaching staff, it’s about our players, it’s about all our support staff, our strength coach and everyone involved in our program,” he kept on. “That’s who it’s about. It has nothing to do with me.”
Tedford said these things while standing behind a lectern answering questions at his postgame news conference. He said them while wearing a white baseball cap with a Bulldogs logo emblazoned on the front and matching T-shirt still damp from celebration. He said them with such conviction that you almost believed him.
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“Almost” being the operative word. Because we all know it’s not true. The results say otherwise.
I don’t think Tedford is being disingenuous when he insists it’s not about him. I also don’t think he’s being falsely modest. I think he genuinely believes he’s just a spoke in this wheel, no larger than the assistant trainer or the guy who drives the equipment truck to road games.
Which is a large part of the reason why Fresno State just snapped a nine-game skid, in convincing and satisfying fashion, against Power Five Conference teams.
Just don’t expect Tedford to place extra heft on that, either. He refused.
“I really don’t look at it as any different, to tell you the truth,” he said of the financial gulf between college football’s Haves and Have Nots.
“I look at us as equal to anybody else. I never get caught up in Group of Five or Power Five. Typically, we go into games thinking we have a chance to win no matter who we play.”
Tedford’s thumbprints were all over this one, whether he chooses to wipe them away or not.
The Bulldogs were coming off a crushing loss to Minnesota, a game that came down to a trick play that went awry in the final minute. It would have been easy for that disappointment to remain in their system and negatively affect preparations for UCLA.
But Fresno State rolled to an early 16-0 lead, looking unimpeded in doing so, while the Bruins looked like they would have preferred to spend the evening at home playing Fortnite.
Then just as suddenly, everything flipped. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion started missing throws and open receivers as UCLA brought additional pressure. Two Bulldogs turnovers, one off a sack-fumble and another off a muffed punt return, twice gave the Bruins a short field that led to touchdowns.
What did Tedford do to get the momentum back on the visiting sideline? If you believe him, hardly anything.
“There was nothing magical or nothing said, or anything like that,” he said. “It was, ‘OK, that was a temporary setback. Let’s move on.’ That’s what we talk about all the time.”
One thing to talk about it, another to actually take it to heart. That was the biggest difference Saturday night. Fresno State clearly believes in Tedford. UCLA, under first-year coach Chip Kelly, played like it still isn’t quite sure.
With a Pac-12 officiating crew, you knew the yellow hankies would fly early and often. But the penalties called against UCLA were especially egregious, none more so than a blatant roughing the passer call against safety Quentin Lake (son of 12-year NFL vet Carnell Lake) on third-and-5 that extended a Bulldogs touchdown drive.
Instead of a no-sure-thing field goal attempt, Fresno State got a first-and-goal that McMaryion punched in for one of his four rushing touchdowns. On the conversion, Tedford reached deep into the playbook as the Bulldogs spread the width of the field in what looked like a double swinging gate. Holder/backup quarterback Jorge Reyna threw a quick slant to tight end Gunner Javernick for a 2-point play that made the score 24-14.
UCLA was done and dusted right then and there. Who designed that play? Who honed it? Not Tedford, of course.
“Coach (Scott) Thompson does the field-goal unit,” Tedford said. “There’s a few of those things that we have that we don’t pull out very often but we practice all the time.”
Tedford went on to express how happy he is for his players, his assistant coaches and the thousands of Bulldogs fans who made the trip over the Grapevine and celebrated past the final whistle.
If it meant something extra special to him, Tedford wasn’t letting on. Not even when it was pointed out to Tedford that this was his first win over Kelly, after going 0-4 against him during their Pac-12 days when Kelly was at Oregon and Tedford at Cal.
Upon hearing that, he reverted to deflect mode.
“It means nothing,” Tedford said. “I’m not playing against Chip Kelly. I wasn’t on the field. Really, it has got nothing to do with me. It really doesn’t.”
And then, just for an instant, the stone facade softened.
“The losses typically have something to do with me,” Tedford said, “but the wins don’t.”
Yes, he was grinning when he said that.
Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee