Fresno State has a problem with its defense.
The Bulldogs gave up 525 yards of offense during a 37-35 loss Saturday to Utah State, which marked the third straight game that the unit allowed 500-plus yards (other games came against Hawaii and Colorado State).
Here’s the ugly: That didn’t even happen in 2016 when the Bulldogs finished 1-11.
Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford, who was hired following the 2016 season, won 22 games, a Mountain West championship and two bowl games in his first two seasons. But he obviously is having some issues with a team that was picked to make a third consecutive appearance in the conference title game.
Here’s more ugly: The Bulldogs have allowed 30 or more points in six of nine games this season, including four times in conference play.
Fresno State (4-5, 2-3 in the MW) just couldn’t knock the Aggies out of rhythm, and they won it on a last-play field goal. And it’s not like Utah State had been performing well previously, coming off losses at Air Force and to BYU in which the Aggies scored 21 points combined.
Utah State in Mountain West games was ranked only seventh in the conference in rushing offense, eighth in scoring offense, ninth in passing offense and 10th in third-down defense.
But it was first down that was a nightmare for the Bulldogs, particularly through the first three quarters.
Utah State ended up averaging 7.5 yards per play on first down, including four of its seven chunk plays of 20 or more yards. Quarterback Jordan Love had pass plays of 36, 26 and 62 yards, and running back Gerold Bright had a 20-yard run.
But it was not all big plays, just a constant roll.
Utah State in the first half had first-down plays of 7, 9, 19, 9 and 36 yards and picked up another 15 on a pass interference penalty.
“The coaches did a great job coming in at halftime and talking to us,” Fresno State defensive end Mykal Walker said. “All those were our mistakes. They didn’t do anything we didn’t look at on film. They weren’t doing anything the coaches didn’t have us ready to stop.
“It was just us making little mistakes here and there. We got together in the locker room and fixed those little things. It was all about us looking in the mirror and correcting it.”
The Aggies played off that rhythm, using tempo and the play-making ability of Love to their advantage. The 37 points scored by Utah State were a season-high against a FBS opponent.
“He was very accurate throwing the football,” Tedford said. “We got caught in a couple of coverages and they got behind us with deep plays, big plays. They’re very efficient at what they do. They’re very good at throwing the football and if you can’t put pressure on the passer and give him that much time to throw and he has great vision and he’s very accurate throwing the football.
“We tried to mix up some coverages in the second half to help us a little bit, but I don’t know what he was, he was 20 of 29, that’s a pretty good night.”
Fresno State did slow the Aggies (5-4, 4-1) down some in the fourth quarter, but with a 35-34 lead the Bulldogs couldn’t produce a first down after stopping Utah State on a fourth-and-1 from the 1.
“We were excited,” Walker said of the fourth-down stop. “Personally, we thought it was over. We thought the game was over, just had to run out the clock, but that wasn’t the case and at the end we didn’t have enough plays to finish it out.”
Fresno State had lost starting right guard Quireo Woodley with an injury on the previous series, so four of the five offensive linemen on the field for that final drive started the season as backups and the fifth was playing at a different position. Needing a first down to clinch the win, the Bulldogs instead went three-and-out.
Utah State was left with 3:05 to work with at the end and had one of the best kickers in the Mountain West on the sideline in Dominik Eberle. The Aggies marched to a game-winning field goal from 30 yards.
By the numbers
3 – Rushing touchdowns by Ronnie Rivers, giving him nine over the past four games and 11 on the season. The school record for rushing touchdowns in a season is 19 set by Ryan Mathews in 2009.
3 – Consecutive 100-yard games by Rivers, who rushed for 146 in a loss to Colorado State, 103 in a victory at Hawaii and 102 in the loss to the Aggies.
7 – Explosive plays of 20 or more yards allowed by the Bulldogs defense, a season-high. Five of those plays were passes by Utah State quarterback Jordan Love – 28, 36, 26, 62 and 21 yards. Fresno State has allowed an average of 5.0 explosive plays per game in Mountain West play.
388 – Passing yards for Love, the most allowed by the Bulldogs this season.
73 – Plays run by the Aggies. Fresno State had a 31:38 to 28:22 edge in time of possession despite running 17 fewer plays than Utah State.
63.6 – Percent conversion rate on third downs for Fresno State. The Bulldogs were 7 of 11 including a third-and-9 and a third-and-11. One of the misses was a third-and-33, another a third-and-1 with 3:05 remaining.
11 – Penalties on the Bulldogs including three holding calls and an illegal block. The defense was hit with four penalties including an offside that wiped out a Fresno State interception and an illegal hands to the face personal foul on a second-and-7 play on the Aggies’ final drive.
6 – Times this season the Bulldogs have allowed 30 or more points in a game – USC scored 31, Minnesota 38, Air Force 43, Colorado State 41, Hawaii 38 and Utah State 37. In the first two seasons under Tedford, Fresno State allowed 30 or more points just twice, to Alabama and Washington in 2017.
1 – Sack for the Bulldogs defense, by defensive end Kwami Jones, who was playing in his first game this season coming back from a back injury. Fresno State has just 12.0 sacks this season and 3.0 in Mountain West play with one each against Colorado State, Hawaii and Utah State.