Four yards. That’s it. The Fresno State Bulldogs, in dire need of a victory in a football season that is fast slipping away, were right there Saturday at Nevada. They got to the red zone on a 23-yard pass from Chason Virgil to Delvon Hardaway, trailing by five points but with 1:44 to work with.
A 10-yard run by Dontel James got them to the Nevada 4 and a first-and-goal. There were 55 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs had one timeout. Fresno State also had run the ball at that point for 255 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per play.
Nevada was stacked inside, playing run. But the Bulldogs’ next four plays were passes – all incomplete – and they absorbed a rough and mistake-filled 27-22 loss to the Wolf Pack.
We thought we had some plays that we had practiced all week down there in the red zone that we just didn't execute.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
On first-and-goal, Virgil threw a fade in the right corner to Aaron Peck, who got his hands on the ball but had it knocked from his grasp by cornerback Elijah Mitchell.
On second-and-goal, Virgil misfired on a pass to KeeSean Johnson.
On third-and-goal, Virgil hit James, but the play went for no gain and the Bulldogs had to call that last timeout. There still were 37 seconds remaining.
From the Wolf Pack 4-yard line, they fired their last shot. Virgil, under pressure, missed Johnson in the left corner and that was it. Close, but 1-5 and 0-2 in the Mountain West Conference.
The plays all were part of the Bulldogs’ red zone practices during the week, but the execution was not there.
“Those are plays that we work on, they just didn’t work how we wanted them to work,” receiver Jamire Jordan said.
The sequence of calls there, coach Tim DeRuyter said, was influenced by the timeout situation.
“We only had one timeout left,” DeRuyter said. “When we got the first down, the clock was running. We thought we had a good matchup with Aaron, so we threw the fade. At that point we probably could have run the ball, but we thought we had some plays that we had practiced all week down there in the red zone that we just didn’t execute. Give Nevada credit. Their kid knocked the ball out of Aaron’s hands and they executed down there better than we did.”
The Bulldogs allowed Nevada 398 yards of offense, a season low against a FBS opponent. They had given up an average of 576.3 in their past three games, losses at Toledo, to Tulsa and at UNLV.
Fresno State used its first timeout of the half when left tackle Christian Cronk had to come out of the game briefly for what appeared to be an arm injury. Logan Hughes went in, but with the tight end depth depleted due to an injury to Chad Olsen, he had been lining up wearing jersey No. 98 rather than the No. 62 that he wears when he plays left or right tackle.
The second timeout was used on defense with 8:34 remaining, with Nevada driving for a touchdown that put the Wolf Pack up 27-16 with 7:56 to go.
QB switch – Coming out of a loss at UNLV, DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau decided to get graduate transfer quarterback Zach Kline some meaningful snaps.
Virgil, a redshirt freshman, had completed only 35.6 percent (16 of 45) of his passes in that loss to the Rebels, his passing efficiency rating on the season dropping to 109.41, which does not rank among the Top 100 quarterbacks in the nation.
The plan at Nevada was to get Kline into the game for a series or two in the second quarter – he had played briefly in the first quarter at Nebraska after Virgil went out with a shoulder injury and in the fourth quarters against Sacramento State and at Toledo.
With Virgil 3 of 6 for 37 yards and the Bulldogs with six points on the scoreboard, Kline got his chance and mishandled it and the football. On their first series in the quarter, Kline scrambled his way forward for 9 yards but never secured the football and at the end of the run it was stripped away by defensive end Malik Reed and recovered by linebacker Alex Bertrando.
The Wolf Pack went on to take a 14-6 lead on a 4-yard run by quarterback Tyler Stewart.
Kline got a second series, which was butchered by mistakes.
Quarterback Chason Virgil had hit four passes in a row and six of seven when the Bulldogs reached the Wolf Pack 4-yard line with 55 seconds remaining. He missed three of his last four, the completion going for no gain.
On first down, he hit Jordan with a short pass that the fleet inside receiver turned into a 75-yard touchdown, but the play was wiped out by a holding call on Peck.
The Bulldogs made it out to their 41-yard line, but on a second-and-5 a wide-open Jordan dropped a pass that hit him squarely in the hands and on third-and-5 despite being in max protect Kline was flushed from the pocket and dropped for no gain. The Bulldogs punted.
“Our plan was, unless Zach did something really extraordinary, we were planning on going back with Chason,” DeRuyter said. “We wanted to see if we could change the pace a little bit with Zach and give him an opportunity – he had been doing some good things and let Chason see from the sidelines. That was our plan. Our plan was to bring Chason (back) in the second half.”
Bendable – Jordan caught three passes for 50 yards including a fairly remarkable grab on 25-yarder in the fourth quarter, leading to a Fresno State touchdown.
On a second-and-10 play, Jordan went high for a pass and was flipped midair by Mitchell, making a twisting landing on his head and neck.
“It was just a normal hash play,” Jordan said. “I went up for the ball and landed awkward. My back, it just popped. It felt a little weird, so I sat down for a minute. But I’m good now.”
Second chances – Nevada, which came in ranked 11th of 12 in the Mountain West and 125th of 128 in the nation in rushing defense, ditched three starters in its defensive front four. The Wolf Pack went with Nakita Lealao and Hausia Sekona at the tackles and Jarid Joseph at end with along with starter Patrick Choudja.
The Bulldogs rushed for 255 yards on 48 plays, 5.3 yards a pop. All three – rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing yards per play – were season highs.
Et cetera – Nevada took its first timeout with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter … coming off the sideline following a 45-yard field goal by Kody Kroening that gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead.
▪ The Bulldogs had 68 players on the trip (the max allowed by the Mountain West) including safety Dalen Jones, inside linebacker Robert Stanley and Olsen, who did not dress.
Jones missed a second consecutive game with a leg injury suffered in practice two weeks ago, Stanley was out with a knee injury suffered at UNLV and Olsen did not practice after coming out of the loss to the Rebels with concussion symptoms.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-5, 0-2 Mountain West; Aztecs 3-1, 0-0 pending Saturday night game vs. UNLV
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: San Diego State rushed for 305 yards in last season’s 21-7 victory over Fresno State
Nevada 27, Fresno State 22
FS: FG Kody Kroening 44, 9:13. Drive: 9 plays, 59 yards, 3:11. Fresno State 3, Nevada 0.
NEV: Wyatt Demps 36 pass from Andrew Celis (Brent Zuzo kick), 4:48. Drive: 10 plays, 82 yards, 4:20. Nevada 7, Fresno State 3.
FS: FG Kroening 44, 9:13. Drive: 9 plays, 59 yards, 4:48. Nevada 7, Fresno State 6.
NEV: Tyler Stewart 4 run (Zuzo kick), 4:22. Drive: 10 plays, 44 yards, 3:33. Nevada 14, Fresno State 6.
NEV: Demps 3 pass from Tyler Stewart (Zuzo kick), 0:12. Drive: 9 plays, 84 yards, 1:12. Nevada 21, Fresno State 6.
FS: Jared Rice 1 pass from Chason Virgil (Kroening kick), 1:26. Drive: 15 plays, 65 yards, 8:13. Nevada 21, Fresno State 13.
FS: FG Kroening 35, 13:37. Drive: 5 plays, 25 yards, 2:13. Nevada 21, Fresno State 16.
NEV: Demps 8 pass from Stewart (kick failed), 7:56. Drive: 14 plays, 75 yards, 5:41. Nevada 27, Fresno State 16.
FS: Dontel James 5 run (pass failed), 5:08. Drive: 9 plays, 75 yards, 2:48. Nevada 21, Fresno State 16.
Time of Possession
Rushing: Fresno State, James 27-169, Treyvon Green 6-29, Zach Kline 4-23, Virgil 7-16, KeeSean Johnson 1-10, Justin Rice 3-8. Nevada, James Butler 37-175, J. Kincaide 8-52, Stewart 3-0, Team 1-(-1).
Passing: Fresno State, Virgil 16-27-0-197, Kline 0-1-0-0. Nevada, Stewart 13-20,-0-127, Andrew Celis 1-2-0-36.
Receiving: Fresno State, Johnson 5-71, Jamire Jordan 3-50, Green 2-23, Aaron Peck 2-17, Hardaway 1-23, Kyle Riddering 1-12, Jared Rice 1-1, James 1-0. Nevada, Demps 9-124, J. Richardson 2-13, James Butler 1-19, Ahki Muhammad 1-5, Celis 1-2.
By the numbers
- 34 Yards for Dontel James on a run on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, longest by a running back this season
- 48 Plays run by Nevada in the first half, 19 more than the Bulldogs.
- 6 Games in a row the Bulldogs have held opponent scoreless on opening drive.
- 20 Yards on six plays for Nevada in the third quarter.
- 10 Consecutive field goals made by Kody Kroening since miss on first attempt of season.
- 2 Scores allowed by the Bulldogs’ defense this season in nine drives following a turnover.
- 75 Yards on a TD pass to Jamire Jordan that was wiped out by a holding penalty.
- 255 Rushing yards for the Bulldogs, most since 272 at New Mexico in 2014.
- 10 Tackles for linebacker Jeff Camilli, third game in a row with 10-plus and fourth in five games.
- 1 Career reception for tight end Jared Rice; it went for a third-quarter touchdown.