Marek Warszawski

Warszawski: Blowout brings Bulldogs back to their bad selves

Fresno State running back Marteze Waller is stopped after a short gain by Air Force defensive back Tyler Weaver, left, and defensive lineman Samuel Byers in the first half Saturday. Waller had a 64-yard touchdown run early but was mostly bottled up after that as the Falcons beat the Bulldogs 42-14.
Fresno State running back Marteze Waller is stopped after a short gain by Air Force defensive back Tyler Weaver, left, and defensive lineman Samuel Byers in the first half Saturday. Waller had a 64-yard touchdown run early but was mostly bottled up after that as the Falcons beat the Bulldogs 42-14. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Momentum is a mirage when it comes to Fresno State. It simply does not exist. One minute, things look so promising. The next, reality comes crashing down.

The way the Bulldogs started Saturday’s game felt like a continuation of the Oct. 16 comeback victory over UNLV.

The way they finished felt like … well, every other game this season against an FBS opponent.

Fresno State took a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter at Falcon Stadium before doing absolutely nothing in the final three except allowing Air Force to score 42 unanswered points in a 42-14 beatdown.

These were the Bulldogs that got smoked by Mississippi and Utah. The same ones that were overwhelmed by San Jose State and Utah State. The ones that went nowhere against San Diego State.

These were the Bulldogs that got smoked by Mississippi and Utah. The same ones that were overwhelmed by San Jose State and Utah State. The ones that went nowhere against San Diego State.

Eight games in, the Bulldogs are who we thought they were, to steal Dennis Green’s famous phrase. They’re a bad football team with limited talent and little ability to make adjustments.

That could not have been more clear than on a sunny 54-degree afternoon at the base of the Rockies.

Certainly, Fresno State did not look like a bad team early. Not when tailbacks Marteze Waller and Dustin Garrison were running for touchdowns of 64 and 60 yards, respectively.

But it didn’t last. Air Force began inching its defenders closer to the line to take away the run and dared the Bulldogs to pass.

They dared them, all right. They double-dared them. Fresno State and redshirt freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson could do nothing about it.

And I mean nothing. After racking up 224 yards of offense on their first three drives, the Bulldogs went eight straight without a first down.

Heck, on six of those eight drives Fresno State managed zero yards or fewer.

That’s not offense. That’s offensive.

“They decided to take away our run game and make Kilton beat us throwing the ball,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We dropped some balls. We didn’t hit some. They pressured him. We didn’t protect well enough. When that happens, it looks ugly.”

We dropped some balls. We didn’t hit some. They pressured him. We didn’t protect well enough. When that happens, it looks ugly.

Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter

It sure did.

After Anderson effectively ran the ball against UNLV, Air Force made sure he couldn’t by spying him with a defender.

Anderson is good on his feet, but offensive coordinator Dave Schramm never called any moving pockets or roll-outs. It was all straight drop-backs. At this point in his development, Anderson is not a guy who can sit back, scan the field and make the precise throw.

At no time was that more evident than late in the first quarter when Air Force cornerback Roland Ladipo stepped in front of a telegraphed pass. Ladipo returned the interception to the Fresno State 10-yard-line, setting up the tying touchdown.

“You can’t turn the ball over there and give their offense momentum like that,” Anderson said. “That also puts our defense in a bad position.”

Oh, yeah, the defense. What can you say about that? The Bulldogs tackled well early. But once Air Force started showing them different wrinkles, wrinkles Fresno State didn’t prepare for, it was off to the races.

The Falcons finished with 458 rushing yards and were 8 yards shy of having three players eclipse 100 for the game.

458 rushing yards for Air Force, a season high

Quarterback Karson Roberts ran for four touchdowns and scored a fifth on a trick-play 20-yard pass from receiver Jalen Robinette, who should’ve been tackled in the backfield.

“They showed us some things that were unlike what we practiced against this week and different than what we had shown,” DeRuyter said. “We tried to make adjustments, but our guys did not handle those as well as we would’ve hoped.”

To be fair to the defense, they were on the field for 42 minutes, 38 seconds. At 6,035 feet of elevation, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Make no mistake, this was a disaster.

What sets this apart from the previous ones is that Fresno State actually led. For most of the first quarter, Bulldogs looked sharp, quick and hungry.

Why the letdown following the early 14-0 lead? Anderson said the offense “might have gotten a little complacent.” Safety Jamal Ellis, who forced and made a key fumble recovery in the third quarter when Fresno State was dying for anything positive to happen, blamed “a loss of focus.”

(Air Force) just changed some things up on defense we might’ve gotten a little complacent after those two scores.

Bulldogs quarterback Kilton Anderson

Not sure how a 2-6 football team can be complacent or lose focus, but the Bulldogs found a way.

In a lot of ways, this was the tilt game on the schedule. Had Fresno State won, you could make a case for a late-season charge. Maybe even a bowl berth at 6-6.

But now, forget it. With a bye week coming up, DeRuyter and the rest of the coaching staff will have their hands full ensuring his players don’t begin the offseason a month ahead of schedule.

DeRuyter said he isn’t worried about that, that this team will continue to practice hard and prepare well for games.

I’m not as convinced.

Fresno State was a motivated, competitive football team for the first quarter Saturday. After that, the Bulldogs were anything but.

What’s next?

▪ Bye week: The Bulldogs won’t play again until 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 (ESPN2) when they will face conference rival Nevada at home.

▪ More inside: Notes on Saturday’s game and more, 6C

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