Tedford recaps Bulldogs’ 31-23 loss at USC
Fresno State can’t claim much went right in a 31-23 loss on Saturday at USC. It didn’t. The Bulldogs, they just played through it.
They made plays to stay in the game, to come back from down 14, down 11, down 18, to have a chance at the end. They made big plays – big throws, big catches, big blocks and big tackles.
Two of their biggest plays got them to the brink, a fourth-and-1 stop by middle linebacker Mykal Walker to get the ball back at the 49-yard line with 2:39 to go and a fourth-and-10 catch by Chris Coleman to get them to the USC 15 with 2:13 remaining.
Then, for one of the few times all game, it appeared the pieces were flowing together.
On first down, the Bulldogs ran tight end Cam Sutton in motion, left to right. At the snap, he took a few steps and turned back toward quarterback Jorge Reyna. The outside linebacker and the cornerback, who had just been beaten on the jump ball by Coleman, both took the bait.
“They came sucking up on it, just like we wanted to happen,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
Running back Ronnie Rivers, set to the left, darted past both. Cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart was slow to recover, and Rivers was open. But Reyna, who had played 58 gritty minutes with the game constantly breaking down around him, didn’t finish the throw.
He didn’t get enough on it.
“We got the look that we wanted,” he said. “I didn’t drill the pass like I normally do. I put some air on it,” said Reyna, who completed 19 of 39 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns and led the Bulldogs with 88 rushing yards.
But safety Isaiah Pola-Mao sliced in front of Rivers and intercepted the pass.
It was reminiscent of the Bulldogs loss at Minnesota a year ago when a halfback pass by Josh Hokit was slow to get to its intended target. A safety, Antoine Winfield Jr., was out of the play and then in it, in it in enough time to come away with an interception.
It might sound counter intuitive, but the best thing about the loss to the Trojans might be the fact that they had the worst of it for so long.
And, they were right there at the end.
The Bulldogs struggled to rush the football, Rivers accounting for 53 yards on 14 plays. They struggled to protect the passer, Reyna getting sacked three times and scrambling his way to safety too many times. They turned the ball over with a fumble in the red zone and lost another at midfield. They were just 5 of 16 on third downs.
Fresno State had five first-time starters on offense including freshman wideouts Jalen Cropper and Jamal Glaspie and four on defense.
They lost a primary deep threat in the JC transfer Keric Wheatfall, who suffered an ankle injury returning a kickoff in the first half.
The Bulldogs didn’t tackle well in the first half, missed a few opportunities to force a turnover and allowed the Trojans to convert on 6 of 13 third down plays.
They gave up a 100-yard kickoff return after pulling to within 17-13 on a 46-yard field goal by Cesar Silva, who also hit from 45 and 28 yards.
“Even with a tough loss like this, we got down and we were able to fight back,” Walker said. “That gives me a lot of hope and promise, because I know this team won’t quit. That is one thing that I appreciate about my teammates.”
They will have a chance to rebound again, as they did after that 21-14 loss at Minnesota.
“We had turnovers and a lot of things go against us, but we fought back and we fought through,” said Coleman, who finished with three receptions for 71 yards and one touchdown, an 8-yard pass from Reyna. “Throughout the rest of the season, no matter what hardships we go through or what team we face, we can fight through.”
Coincidentally, the Golden Gophers are up next.
“There is going to be a lot from this tape that we can look at and improve on, like in any game,” Tedford said. “I told the team to hold their heads high. They competed well against a great football team.
“We will go back to the drawing board and we will learn. I have a lot of confidence in this group. We will go back to work and we will fix some things and compete next week.”
By the numbers
20 – Rushing plays by Reyna. Rivers last season led the Bulldogs in averaging 12.0 carries per game with Jordan Mims second with 9.4 and Josh Hokit third with 5.6.
9 – Kickoff return touchdowns allowed by the Bulldogs since they last returned one for a score in 2008. USC wideout Velus Jones took one back 100 yards for a score in the third quarter after the Bulldogs had cut the Trojans’ lead to 17-13.
6 – Jones had had only the sixth 100-yard kickoff returns in school history - Anthony Davis and Adoree Jackson both had two and Marqise Lee had one.
15 – Tackles by Walker in his first start at middle linebacker. The senior had seven solo tackles and 1.0 tackles for loss and also was credited with a pass breakup.
139 – Total yards for USC in the second half. The Trojans had 122 yards on kickoff returns in the third and fourth quarters.
6 – True freshman played for the Bulldogs – wideouts Jalen Cropper and Jamal Glaspie started and defensive backs Randy Jordan, Deshawn Ruffin and Evan Williams and linebacker Levelle Bailey all got into the game.
1 – USC scored on its opening drive, the first team to take the kickoff and score a touchdown against the Bulldogs since Boise State did it Nov. 25, 2017.
4 – Fresno State players had 10 or more tackles - Walker had 15, cornerback Chris Gaston had 12, safety Juju Hughes had 11 and linebacker Justin Rice had 10 including a sack. The Bulldogs had not had four players with 10 or more tackles in the same game since Oct. 28, 2016 when it had four against Air Force.
18 – First downs for USC in the first half. The Trojans had fewer than 18 first downs in five games last season and the Bulldogs allowed fewer than 18 first downs five times and allowed 18 in two other games.
4 – Takeaways for the Bulldogs (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) in 29 games under Tedford, Fresno State now has 51. In 2016, the season before the Bulldogs’ coach was hired, they had just nine turnovers gained all season.