Late in the second quarter of Fresno State’s 49-27 stomping of Toledo on Saturday night, a game whose final score betrays its actual lopsidedness, Marcus McMaryion turned to Jordan Mims and informed his tailback he was about to score.
It was the first play of the drive, and the Bulldogs were 47 yards away from the end zone.
“He said, ‘This should be a touchdown,’ “ Mims recalled afterward.
It’s probably irresponsible of me to make Fresno State’s senior quarterback sound clairvoyant when McMaryion was simply well-prepared and alert. He spotted one of the Rockets’ inside linebackers, Jordan Fisher, “tucking inside” (Mims’ description). Which left him in poor position to cover the tailback on a quick toss to the perimeter.
Guess what play the Bulldogs had dialed up?
“We practiced it all week,” McMaryion said. “We got the exact look we thought we were going to get. It just worked out well.”
“It just worked out well.” While studying for his master’s in kinesiology, McMaryion must be double-majoring in understatement.
Mims ran the route. McMaryion delivered the football on target. Receiver Jamire Jordan created a little extra space by getting in the linebacker’s way just enough to knock him off stride.
From there it became a footrace to the end zone between Mims and the Toledo secondary. You already know who won.
“We knew we had the right play call,” Mims said.
“Our coaches do a good job putting us in position to be successful,” McMaryion said.
This latest encapsulation of Fresno State football in Year 2 of the Jeff Tedford era felt equal parts clinical and personal. The Bulldogs not only out-schemed and out-played the Rockets, they also seemed to take great pleasure from stomping on them.
Consider Toledo’s 52-17 blowout from 2016, the worst loss of the worst season in program history, repaid in full.
“Two years ago it didn’t go so well for the Bulldogs at their place, so we had a chip on our shoulder going into this game,” Tedford said.
A chip the size of El Capitan, by the looks of things.
Toledo entered the game averaging 51 points and coming off a 63-point barrage against the same Nevada squad the Bulldogs open Mountain West play against next Saturday in Reno.
Until midway through the fourth quarter, when Fresno State finally took its foot off the accelerator, the Rockets had 13.
Much has already been made of the Bulldogs’ formidable linebackers and secondary, and much will continue to be. Jeffrey Allison, James Bailey and Tank Kelly appeared to have a side bet going of Who Can Deliver the Hardest (Legal) Hit.
(Mitchell Guadagni would be the guy to ask. Toledo’s mobile quarterback exited the game late in the second quarter after absorbing one too many.)
Just as key has been the emergence of defensive linemen Jasad Haynes and Mykal Walker, part-time and scout-team contributors turned full-time studs.
Haynes’ off-season strength program is paying dividends. The Clovis North High product is currently Fresno State’s best interior pass rusher and penetrator. Walker, meanwhile, has become a terror on the edge, capable of rushing the passer, making tackles in the backfield and even tipping passes to himself for interceptions so he can return them for 38-yard touchdowns.
“He’s so flexible because he’s really long and can run,” Tedford said of the 6-3, 220-pound Walker, a converted linebacker. “He gives tackles a hard time because he’s fast and long-levered. Tonight he made an awesome play to bat that ball in the air.”
Offensively, Fresno State looked rather awesome while racking up 21 points during a 6-minute, 7-second stretch of the second quarter. McMaryion directed two more touchdown drives after intermission to finish with a career-high 368 passing yards and four scores, plus one on the ground.
Through four games, McMaryion is completing 72.1 percent of his passes while his 8.6-yards per attempt is nearly a yard better than last year’s 7.7.
That combination of precision and explosion was what the coaching staff had hoped for after McMaryion, rushed into action a year ago, spent the offseason learning the nooks and crannies of the offense. It’s no longer just a hope.
“We had a great game plan going in, and we executed it very well,” McMaryion said.
You expect him to boast, did you?
Looking ahead, the Bulldogs have in front of them playing field as wide open as the one Mims enjoyed on the touchdown McMaryion saw coming.
None of Fresno State’s next five opponents (Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV) ought to pose much of a threat. This is the time to rack up wins while building confidence and momentum.
“We prepare for every game like it’s a championship game,” Walker said.
As long as that continues, Bulldogs fans can stop being pleasantly surprised by the program’s turnaround and graduate to extreme delight.
Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee