FINAL: Fresno State 30, New Mexico State 17
Fresno State had some bright moments, but was far from its best on Saturday in a 30-17 victory over New Mexico State at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Freshman wideout Jalen Cropper took a handoff 79 yards for a touchdown. Safety Wylan Free picked off a pass and returned it 91 yards for a score. Free had a second interception deep in New Mexico State territory that allowed Fresno State to run out the clock.
Wideout Emoryie Edwards, the redshirt freshman out of Tulare Union High who suffered a foot injury in fall camp, made his first appearance and caught eight passes on a team-high nine targets for 70 yards.
Chris Coleman, who was moved to cornerback from wideout this week during practice due to injuries to Chris Gaston and Deshawn Ruffin, played well after not being in a backpedal for more than two years.
But the Bulldogs offense, which was down an key piece in injured left guard Netane Muti, struggled against a New Mexico State defense that came in ranked 129th in the nation in scoring defense and total defense.
Fresno State (2-2), which entered the game as a 20.5-point favorite, generated only 386 total yards of offense. The Bulldogs scored only two touchdowns on offense – New Mexico State had not allowed fewer in a game since a 17-10 victory over Idaho during the 2017 season.
New Mexico State had come in allowing an average of 51.5 points and 554.0 yards per game.
Aggies cut into deficit
New Mexico State has cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 30-17 with 9:25 to go on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Josh Adkins to Tony Nicholson.
The Aggies drive was 48 yards in 9 plays and in the second half they have out-gained the Bulldogs 156 to 95.
New Mexico State has 309 yards of offense to 327 for the Bulldogs.
Another FG …
The Bulldogs started at the New Mexico State 32-yard line after the interception by Justin Rice, but they could not get into the end zone, settling for another field goal by Cesar Silva, this one from 24 yards.
Fresno State, up 30-10, has scored on all three of its trips into the red zone, but twice has had to kick a field goal.
The Bulldogs came into the game with a red zone touchdown percentage of just 52.9, seventh in the Mountain West.
Back in business
Fresno State just forced another turnover, an interception by Justin Rice on a pass tipped at the line by defensive tackle Keiti Iakopo.
The Bulldogs have the ball at the Aggies’ 32.
Bulldogs settle for another FG
Fresno State failed to find the end zone again, settling for a 43-yard field goal by Cesar Silva. Silva is 2 of 2 after missing three field goal attempts last week in a victory over Sacramento State.
Fresno State has 62 yards of offense in the second half and is now just 3 of 9 on third downs.
Aggies cash it in …
New Mexico State has cut the Bulldogs lead to 24-10 with Jason Huntley scoring on a 2-yard run.
The points were the first allowed by the Bulldogs on an opening series in the second half.
Bulldogs turn it over to start 2nd half
Fresno State just turned the ball over on the first series in the second half, Zane Pope losing it after taking in a pass from Jorge Reyna.
New Mexico State takes over at the Bulldogs’ 31.
The 79-yard interception return for a touchdown by Wylan Free was the sixth longest in school history …
100 yards – Nathan Ray vs. SMU in 2002
100 yards – Richard Marshall at Rice in 2004
96 yards – Jim Sanderson vs. Long Beach State in 1960
95 yards – Arron Mosby vs. San Jose State in 2018
81 yards – Richard Marshall at Tennessee in 2003
79 yards – Wylan Free at New Mexico State in 2019
When stats don’t tell the story …
Fresno State has 232 yards of offense at halftime, averaging 6.6 yards per play. That’s not terrible, even against a New Mexico State defense that has struggled through its first four games.
The problem for the Bulldogs – 104 of those 232 yards have come on two plays. Jalen Cropper had a 25-yard run in the first quarter and the 79-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs on their other three plays are averaging just 3.9 yards per play against a defense that came in allowing 6.4 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt.
They also are just 2 of 6 on third downs and have allowed four tackles for loss and one sack. New Mexico State had just one sack in its first four games.
Defense scores – Wylan Free with the Pick 6
New Mexico State was moving the ball, down to the Bulldogs’ 21 yard line. But, coming out of a time out, safety Wylan Free picked off a Josh Adkins pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 24-0.
The Fresno State defense has held the Aggies to 130 yards of offense and six first downs. New Mexico State is 0 of 6 on third downs, The Bulldogs have six tackles for loss with two from freshman linebacker Levelle Bailey.
Bulldogs add a FG
Cesar Silva just hit a 28-yard field goal to extend the Bulldogs lead to 17-0. Thee Bulldogs drive was 59 yards in 13 plays with 6:09 coming off the clock.
Reyna is 11 of 17 for 74 yards, averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt.
And then Jalen Cropper …
Freshman Jalen Cropper just took a handoff 79 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 14-0 with 11:28 to go in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs had been stuck before that play, gaining just 12 yards on their three previous drives.
New Mexico State, ranked 129th in the FBS in scoring and total defense, had not held an opponent scoreless for three consecutive drives before the Bulldogs came to town.
Cropper has 104 rushing yards on two plays.
Another blank for the ‘Dogs
Fresno State after missed field goal attempt by the Aggies went three-and-out, losing one yard on three plays.
As a reminder, New Mexico State ranks 129th in the nation in scoring and total defense.
Quarterback Jorge Reyna is 7 of 11 for 45 yards.
First quarter: Bulldogs 7-0
Fresno State leads New Mexico State 7-0 at the end of one quarter. The Bulldogs scored easily on their first possession, but has struggled to move the ball since. The next drives, 11 yards in four plays and two yards in three plays.
Hokit gives Bulldogs a lead
Fresno State is up 7-0 on a 8-yard power run by Josh Hokit with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter. The Bulldogs drive was 82 plays in 12 plays and 4:36.
The TD run was the first touch for Hokit, and the Bulldogs rushed for 50 yards on 6 plays on the drive. The big play was a 25-yard run by freshman Jalen Cropper to the Aggies’ 8.
Edwards on the board
Emoryie Edwards, who has had to work through a foot injury suffered in fall camp, just played his firts snap. He also caught his first pass, a 7-yard gain.
Coleman starting – at cornerback
With Chris Gaston and Deshawn Ruffin out with injuries, the Bulldogs this week moved wideout Chris Coleman to cornerback and got him reps on both offense and defense.
Coleman is on the field for the first snap – at corner.
The third-year sophomore was a corner when he started at Fresno State, but was moved to offense for his redshirt freshman season.
Coleman will be backed up by freshman Randy Jordan.
Senior Jaron Bryant, who led the Bulldogs with eight tackles last week in a victory over Sacramento State, starts on the other side.
Some pre-game reading …
Muti out of lineup
Fresno State has done some shuffling on its offensive line due to an injury to left guard Netane Muti, who is regarded as their best offensive lineman.
The Bulldogs will start senior Nick Aibuedefe at left guard with Matt Smith at center, Quireo Woodley at right guard and Dontae Bull and Syrus Tuitele at left and right tackle.
Bull sat out a victory over Sacramento State last week due to an injury.
The Bulldogs’ line put together two solid fourth quarter drives in that 34-20 victory over the Hornets, but Muti was on the field for both series.
Fresno State went 74 yards in 11 plays and scored on a 7-yard pass from Jorge Reyna to Derrion Grim, then went 55 yards in five plays with Josh Hokit scoring on a 14-yard run.
Muti, who missed most of last season with an Achilles’ injury suffered in a narrow loss at Minnesota, will be re-evaluated during the Bulldogs bye week.
Fresno State opens Mountain West Conference play Oct. 12 at Air Force.
New Mexico State is 0-4 and had some trouble stopping opponents - of course, the Aggies also have played at Washington State, at No. 2 Alabama, San Diego State and New Mexico.
They are ranked 129th in the nation in scoring and total defense, allowing 51.5 points and 554.0 yards per game.