Whatever magic Zack Greenlee conjured up last week in Hawaii, he didn’t bring it back to the mainland.
Fresno State’s sophomore quarterback suffered through a nightmare afternoon Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and his struggles were the biggest reason why the Bulldogs got stomped 52-10.
Wait a second. Fresno State gave up 52 points. Isn’t that mainly the defense’s fault?
In this case, not really. BYU broke open a close game on two successive second-quarter touchdowns in a span of 1 minute, 10 seconds. Both were a result of Greenlee interceptions.
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These weren’t unlucky, tipped-ball interceptions, either. On the first one Greenlee misfired and threw the ball downfield right to safety Kai Nacua, who returned the pick 32 yards for a score. On the second Greenlee did not see leaping linebacker Fred Warner at the line of scrimmage.
The Bulldogs had several chances, at least early. They had great field position at midfield on their opening drive but couldn’t manage a first down. And they settled for a field goal after taking over at the BYU 24-yard line following a failed fake punt.
Greenlee finished 14 of 41 for 125 yards and three interceptions. That 34.1 percent completion rate is a long, long way (2,994 miles, to be exact) from his six-touchdown performance last week against Hawaii.
Of course, Greenlee was facing a legitimate FBS defense this week.
Despite Greenlee’s struggles, we saw no evidence the coaching staff considered benching him until Kilton Anderson entered early in the fourth quarter following Greenlee’s third interception.
Anderson, continuing a long, proud tradition of Bulldogs backup quarterbacks excelling in blowout losses, promptly ran for a 29-touchdown – Fresno State’s only end-zone appearance of the day.
To be fair to Greenlee, he didn’t get much protection from his offensive line (four BYU sacks) or a running game that produced 85 yards on 30 carries. Cougars defensive end Bronson Kaufusi pushed around tackles Alex Fifita and Justin Northern like they were wearing roller skates.
On the other hand, some of Greenlee’s errant passes nearly got his receivers maimed. The Bulldogs gained yards on just 23 of 62 offensive plays with him under center.
The Cougars scored 52 unanswered points after Fresno State took a 3-0 lead on a 28-yard Kody Kroenig field goal with 5:11 left in the first quarter.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Bulldogs surrendered 42 unanswered points at Air Force on Oct. 24 after jumping out to a 14-0 lead.
Now 3-8, Fresno State’s season will come to an end next Saturday evening against Colorado State at Bulldog Stadium.
Mercifully for the players, coaches and – most of all – fans.
A little help, please?
That’s how Fresno State’s defense must’ve felt Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium after BYU led the Bulldogs 24-3 at halftime.
For as many times as Fresno State has gotten torched this season, the Bulldogs packed their defense with them on this trip.
Only to have the offense – and specifically quarterback Zack Greenlee – completely unravel. It was a 10-3 game until the Cougars scored consecutive touchdowns in a span of 1 minute, 10 seconds. Both were set up by Greenlee interceptions.
BYU and its high-powered passing offense punted on its first two drives, then tried an ill-advised fake punt on the third that led to a Fresno State field goal – the Bulldogs’ only points of the first half.
The Cougars snapped a 3-3 deadlock with a 1-yard touchdown vault by Francis Bernard with 13:25 remaining in the second quarter.
The score was set up by a 45-yard completion from Tanner Mangum to receiver Mitch Mathews – BYU’s longest play from scrimmage.
How is Fresno State’s offense faring? Well, not so good.
Coming off his six-touchdown outing against Hawaii, Greenlee was back to his erratic ways.
The inconsistency has to be maddening.
On one play, Greenlee overthrew Jamire Jordan over the middle – and nearly got Jordan decapitated. On the next, Greenlee threw a perfect strike to Jordan for 16 yards and first down.
It only got worse for Greenlee in the second quarter when his intended pass – way, way off target – was intercepted by safety Kai Nacua and returned for a 32-yard touchdown with 7:21 left before halftime.
Greenlee evidently didn’t see Fred Warner on the second interception because Greenlee threw the ball right to him. BYU scored on the following play.
Fresno State failed to pick up a first down after starting the opening drive near midfield. Nor could the Bulldogs capitalize (with a touchdown) when Delvon Hardaway sniffed out a fake punt and gave his team possession at the Cougars 24.
At one point, 16 of Fresno State’s first 24 plays resulted in either negative yards or zero yards. Ten of those plays were Greenlee incompletions.
Not all of this is Greenlee’s fault. Neither of the Bulldogs tackles, Alex Fifita or Justin Northern, could handle BYU defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, who had two first-half sacks.