Something is wrong here. Something is seriously, inescapably wrong.
After watching Fresno State get thoroughly pasted 49-23 on Saturday night by a San Jose State team that was clearly more inspired and better prepared, any other conclusion is impossible.
These Bulldogs have no bite.
Fast, physical and fanatical? Not in any way, shape or form.
Four games into the season, Fresno State is a mess. There’s no other way to state it. The offense is anemic (let’s not confuse Zack Greenlee with Derek Carr, or even Tom Brandstater), and the defense has more holes than a spaghetti strainer. Coaching? That’s been awful, too.
I guess it’s possible the Bulldogs could course-correct in time for Saturday’s game at San Diego State, a team that is also enduring early season struggles. But right now, that’s just hope and blind faith. There’s no evidence to support that position.
In fact, all the evidence points toward Fresno State’s woes continuing for the foreseeable future.
This is a young team, as coach Tim DeRuyter continuously reminds us, and one that appears to have severe confidence issues.
There’s only so many times “We’ve got to execute better” or “We’ve got to tackle better” can be uttered in postgame news conferences before you start to wonder whether the coaches and players who make those statements truly believe they can.
Right now, I’m not sure this team believes in itself, or in its coaches. How else to explain the Bulldogs coming out so lethargically for a rivalry game that doubled as their Mountain West Conference opener?
Judging by my email inbox and Twitter mentions, Fresno State fans are quickly losing confidence, too. Many are out for blood.
No, I’m not going to call for anyone’s head – certainly not in Week 4. But if things don’t improve and fans stop buying tickets, athletic director Jim Bartko will be forced to act before DeRuyter’s guaranteed contract expires in 2017.
There’s no way to put any positive spin on what took place at Spartan Stadium. It was a complete and total system failure against a San Jose State team picked to finish fourth in the six-team West Division.
Despite what Mississippi and Utah, both currently ranked in the top 10, did against Fresno State, I thought the Bulldogs’ defense was improved over last season.
At least I used to. My opinion changed after watching Spartans tailback Tyler Ervin run all over them for a school-record 300 yards and three touchdowns. It was like Fresno State is allergic to tackling.
Not to be outdone, Spartans quarterback Joe Gray completed 20 of 23 pass attempts. That’s 87 percent! Not bad for a guy who lost his starting job (multiple times) and was only playing because Kenny Potter was injured.
Two defensive breakdowns stood out, and each were tone-setters.
On San Jose State’s first touchdown, Fresno State had 10 players on the field as the Bulldogs’ coaching staff frantically tried to signal timeout. Who’s to blame there?
Then, on first and 5 during the Spartans’ opening drive of the second half, defensive coordinator Nick Toth slanted his guys to the short side of the field. Thank you very much, Ervin said. The 5-foot-10, 177-pounder bolted straight up the middle – untouched – for a 30-yard touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm shouldn’t dodge criticism, either. Some of his play calls make little strategic sense. Others show a lack of imagination and aggressiveness.
Fresno State had a great chance to jump ahead after Da’Mari Scott returned the opening kickoff 66 yards to the Spartans’ 33-yard line. Time to get Marteze Waller going, right? Start softening up a defense that had been gashed for nearly 290 rushing yards per game, right?
Wrong. Instead, three straight sweeps and end-arounds to receivers produced a grand total of 5 yards. Then, on fourth and 5, Malique Micenheimer took the handoff. The 243-pounder got stuffed.
Thus began a puzzling, persistent pattern. Whenever the Bulldogs faced anything resembling third and long, they didn’t seem all that interested in reaching the first-down marker. Not with passes that barely got back to the line of scrimmage.
How much of a distraction was Greenlee’s recent arrest? The players and coaches refused to use that as an excuse, but perhaps they should have. Because the only other possible conclusion after watching Saturday’s game has to be this: Fresno State is a bad football team.
Asked how the one-game suspension for Greenlee and linebacker Brandon Hughes was decided, DeRuyter replied, “I met with our athletic director, we took the recommendation of the Code of Conduct committee, and we went with the recommendation.”
From that answer, and his tone of voice, I got the feeling DeRuyter did not agree with the punishment.
Fresno State maintained the Greenlee masquerade until just before the opening kick. The sophomore came out in full uniform and participated in pregame warmups before exchanging his helmet for a baseball cap and spending the rest of the night on the sideline.
If the Bulldogs thought they were fooling anyone, they were only fooling themselves.
Something is wrong.