Fresno State needed a play, just one for starters and after that, well, with one win in six games they just go from there. But the Bulldogs defense was absorbing blow after blow from a bludgeoning San Diego State running game and hanging in there, holding them in position where one play could make a big difference.
Down three, down 10, down seven, and still in it despite spending an inordinate amount of time on the field.
They needed a play before the defense cracked, but never could get it in a 17-3 Homecoming loss to the Aztecs on Friday before 24,731 at Bulldog Stadium.
Before and after a 39-yard third-quarter field goal by Kody Kroening that kept alive a fairly modest streak of now 75 games without a shutout, it just was a struggle against a San Diego State defense that was leading the Mountain West in total defense and had not allowed any of its past 17 conference opponents to hit 400 total yards.
“When you play a good football team and it’s a one-possession game you have to find a way to make something happen and consequently it’s a tough, bitter loss,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “That’s as good a defense as we have faced in conference in my five years. They’re as physical as anyone you’re going to play against. They’re really well-coached. They play extremely hard and they’re a veteran group, so they know what they do and they go very fast doing it.
“I was proud of our guys’ effort. I thought our offensive line did a really good job not allowing a sack for the first three quarters. We had some opportunities to make some chunk plays, but we needed to make more.”
Fresno State (1-5, 0-3) could muster only 217 total yards, 78 rushing. Chason Virgil was 16-of-26 passing for 139 yards and two interceptions.
Stringing plays together was just difficult. The Bulldogs converted 5 of 14 third downs and made only 10 first downs in the game, three better than the season-low seven they had in a 52-17 loss at Toledo.
When you play a good football team and it’s a one-possession game you have to find a away to make something happen and consequently it’s a tough, bitter loss.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
The Aztecs (5-1, 2-0) didn't have much difficulty moving the football, but getting into the end zone was difficult against a Fresno State defense that came in allowing 36.3 points a game – 10th of 12 in the conference.
San Diego State went 75 yards on 12 plays with its first possession, but was cut down on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 when inside linebackers Jeff Camilli and Jeffrey Allison and outside linebacker Tobenna Okeke stopped national rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey for no gain.
It took a 3-0 lead on the 47-yard field goal by John Baron on its next possession and went up 10-0 on a 75-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard run by Pumphrey.
But the Bulldogs made the going as difficult as it could while spending almost 21 of the 30 minutes in the first half on the field (20:58) and defending 40 plays.
In the game, San Diego State held the football for 37:19 and ran 73 plays to just 51 by the Bulldogs.
Fresno State (1-6, 0-3) just had no response when it had the ball.
San Diego State has held its past 18 Mountain West opponents to less than 400 yards of total offense and 11 of those teams have failed to reach 300 yards.
The Bulldogs churned out 255 rushing yards last week at Nevada, but the Aztecs were a completely different challenge with that long run of shutting down Mountain West offenses. Ten times in those 17 games they had allowed less than 300 yards.
A year ago, the Bulldogs could muster only 89 yards in a 21-7 loss.
They passed that mark on their first series in the third quarter, which ended with the field goal by Kroening, his 11th in a row after a miss on his first attempt this season at Nebraska.
But after the defense forced a punt, the Bulldogs followed that up by having a 17-yard pass play wiped out by a hold.
“Just the nature of the game, when you’re playing a team that runs and we were running the ball, you’re not going to have many possessions so you have to take advantage of your possessions,” DeRuyter said. “We had nine in the game. It’s like when you’re playing Air Force. You have to take advantage of those possessions.
“We got some conversions on third down on a few of those drives, but we’d stall out. We dropped a ball on one of those third downs, had third-and-3 and got 2 1/2 yards. You have to make those plays.”
The Aztecs then effectively put the game away, driving 52 yards on nine plays to go up 17-3 on a 13-yard run by Pumphrey that started with a devastating cut in the backfield and away from a Bulldogs defender.
Pumphrey, who came in leading the nation in rushing with 178.2 yards per game, finished with 220 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. He went over the 200-yard mark for the third time this season (281 vs. Cal and 220 at Northern Illinois) and now has 1,111 yards in six games to raise his career total to 5,383.
In moving from 14th to eighth on the NCAA career rushing list, Pumphrey passed, among others, LaDanian Tomlinson (5,263), Herschel Walker (5,259) and Archie Griffin (5,177).
It took a stellar diving catch by Jamire Jordan on a 49-yard pass from Virgil in the fourth quarter to get Fresno State on top of the 200-yard mark, but that drive, like all but one before it, stalled out.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT UTAH STATE
- Oct. 22: 7:30 p.m. at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium in Logan
- Records: Bulldogs 1-6, 0-3 Mountain West; Aggies 2-4, 0-3
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Utah State will enter off a bye. … Aggies a year ago posted 482 yards of total offense in beating the Bulldogs 56-14 on homecoming night. Kilton Anderson got the start for Fresno State at quarterback and went 10 for 20 for 112 yards with three interceptions.
San Diego State 17, Fresno State 3
San Diego State
SDSU — FG Baron 47, 4:21
SDSU — Pumphrey 2 run (Baron kick), 9:15
FRE — FG Kroening 39, 9:54
SDSU — Pumphrey 13 run (Baron kick), :09
San Diego State
Time of Possession
RUSHING — San Diego State, Pumphrey 38-220, Penny 15-49, Chapman 6-26, (Team) 2-(minus 3). Fresno State, Virgil 9-44, James 15-34.
PASSING — San Diego State,Chapman 7-12-0-72. Fresno State, Cusick 0-1-1-0, Virgil 16-26-2-139.
RECEIVING — San Diego State, Wells 3-30, Bawden 2-23, Houston 1-14, Penny 1-5. Fresno State, K.Johnson 8-56, Peck 6-32, Jordan 1-49, Riddering 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.