Pride can only take a team so far.
After that, it has to maintain possession of the football. It has to sustain drives. Guys have to block and tackle.
Fresno State showed plenty of pride but little in the way of perseverance Thursday night at Bulldog Stadium.
Which is why Nevada emerged with a 30-16 victory before an announced 25,476 – a total that included 696 students and faculty from UC Merced who received free admission – and the Bulldogs exited despondent.
Look no further than the third quarter, a period in which the Wolf Pack extended a 17-16 halftime lead.
Nevada had two drives in the quarter, kicked two field goals and kept the ball for 13 minutes, 20 seconds.
To repeat, 13:20.
Football quarters are 15 minutes long, which means Fresno State had the ball for but 1:40 of the third quarter.
Maybe Baylor or Oregon with Marcus Mariota can win football games with less than 2 minutes of possession in a quarter. The Bulldogs cannot.
Fresno State’s inability to keep the ball doomed the defense, too.
In the first half, Nevada had 15 rushes for 25 yards, a paltry 1.7 per carry.
In the second half, Nevada had 35 rushes for 267 yards, a whopping 7.6-yard average.
It’s not as if the Wolf Pack suddenly became better runners and blockers at halftime. More a result of the Bulldogs defense getting worn down, tired out and missing tackles – as we’ve seen time and again this season.
Sure, you can blame halftime adjustments, or Fresno State’s lack thereof. But at some point it comes down to the guys on the field.
Fresno State invited students and faculty from UC Merced to be its guests after a trying week at both campuses. Five buses made the drive south Highway 99. Too bad none of them play quarterback.
The Bulldogs, with Kilton Anderson making his fourth start, did not show the improvement one might’ve expected coming off a bye. His accuracy remained erratic. Zack Greenlee, now Anderson’s backup, entered midway through the fourth quarter and promptly led Fresno State’s longest drive of the half.
It ended with a goal-line interception.
Greenlee was later picked off for a second time on a sideline pass that he was trying to throw out of bounds.
Guess that rules out another quarterback controversy.
I don’t think this game showed a lack of effort – or interest – on the Bulldogs’ part. They played hard. It was simply another example of this team’s limited talent and execution level.
This isn’t a great Nevada squad, either. Let’s be honest. But the Wolf Pack were steady enough (one turnover) to record their first win over Fresno State since 2011. Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter had been 3-0 against the school that employed him as defensive coordinator from 2005-06.
Now 2-7 overall, 1-5 in the Mountain West Conference and assured a second straight losing season, Fresno State is finally out of reasons to keep playing.
Except pride. There’s always that. But as we saw Thursday, pride alone isn’t enough.
The way Thursday night’s game began for Fresno State, it figured to be a long, miserable evening for team and fans alike.
Then something strange and somewhat unexpected happened: The Bulldogs buckled up.
Despite coughing up a fumble return for a touchdown and surrendering a long touchdown pass, Fresno State found enough resolve to trim Nevada’s lead to 17-16.
Only a missed extra-point attempt following Kilton Anderson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Blandin with 14 seconds left in the second quarter prevented the halftime tie.
From a disastrous start, this was an encouraging ending to what turned out to be a fairly even first half.
The Bulldogs found their footing on offense, ending the half with consecutive drives of 76 and 75 yards, while the defense contained the Wolf Pack except on one play.
Nevada made but two plays of consequence. Both resulted in touchdowns.
On Fresno State’s opening drive, Ian Seau sacked Anderson and forced a fumble. Matthew Lyons scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a 7-0 Wolf Pack lead.
Nevada got its second score on a perfectly thrown 73-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Stewart to 6-5 receiver Hasaan Henderson. The Bulldogs had two defenders in coverage, but safety Charles Washington took a poor angle to the ball and got turned around.
The long touchdown pass seemed to ignite both offenses. Down 14-3, the Bulldogs responded with their best drive (nine plays, 75 yards) and capped it off when Anderson scampered in from 24 yards on fourth-and-1.
Nevada answered with a 47-yard Brent Zuzo field goal to make the score 17-10.
After combining for 75 yards of offense in the first quarter, the two teams amassed 295 in the second.