The run game came up post game and that was where Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford was headed when he angled off topic.
“We just need to get the run game going,” he said. “It felt like if we could get it going a little bit and try to wear them down that it would pay off later in the game. They did a good job, though, they really did. Ronnie (Rivers) ran the ball well.
“But we put ourselves behind the sticks way too much. Penalties, I have to look at the film and see about those penalties because you can’t do that. You go behind schedule with long yardage situations it’s hard against anybody to convert.”
Sound plan, and it should have worked after the Spartans defense was on the field for 49 plays and 22:25 of possession time in the first half of the Bulldogs’ 27-10 victory.
This also was a defense that went into the game ranked last in the Mountain West in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense and had lost a starting defensive end to injury in the first half, compromising an already thin front seven.
It didn’t work. But it wasn’t just the run game and it wasn’t just penalties, and it appears the Bulldogs’ inability to stay on the field in the second half could become a problem given the schedule from here gets much more difficult.
In the victory at San Jose State, Fresno State was 0 of 7 on third downs in the second half. In a 41-21 victory over Nevada the week before, the Bulldogs were 1 of 7.
They are 1 of 14: 0.07142857 converting third downs.
Against the Spartans, the second half drives went like this:
There was a third-and-14, following a second-down pass to Rivers that went for a 5-yard loss. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion hit Jamire Jordan with a pass five yards down field and the wideout turned it into a 9-yard gain. Punt.
There was a third-and-1, and even with an extra lineman and three tight ends on the field, the Bulldogs went nowhere. Josh Hokit, their best power back, was stopped for no gain, which points to another problem. Rushing the ball on third-and-short (one to three yards) the Bulldogs this season are averaging 2.9 yards on 14 plays and have seven first downs. Punt.
There was a third-and-3, and McMaryion and the Bulldogs misfired on a pass play where it appeared there was some confusion on the route outside. Punt.
There was a third-and-5 conversion that was wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty, no play. But on the ensuing third-and-10 the Bulldogs gained a first down on a pass interference penalty on San Jose State. No play, but life.
There was a third-and-9, and McMaryion badly missed running back Jordan Mims when there was a chance he could have made a first down running after a catch. Punt.
There was a third-and-10 after starting at the San Jose State 21 following a turnover, and McMaryion missed tight end Jared Rice. Field goal.
There was a third-and-3 after starting at the Spartans 38, and Da’Mari Scott was hit for a 2-yard loss after taking a quick pass from McMaryion. Field goal.
There was a third-and-3, and McMaryion was chased to his right for no gain.
That’s one third-and-1 and three third-and-3s and the Bulldogs were off the field after every one of them, without a penalty on any one of those drives.
That might be just as hard to fathom as the fact Fresno State generated only 63 yards on offense in the second half after gaining 285 in the first half.
The Bulldogs ran 28 plays and gained just 2.3 yards per play. McMaryion was 5 of 11 throwing the football, the completions going for seven yards. The Bulldogs rushed it 17 times for 56 yards, their longest gain there just eight yards.
The Spartans weren’t last in the conference in third-down defense, but they were 10th, allowing opponents to convert at a 44 percent clip.
There were penalties – four. But one was a defensive pass interference and another a holding call on the final drive when Fresno State was chewing up the final 4:16 that wiped out a 8-yard run for a first down on a second-and-5 play and left the Bulldogs in a second-and-7.
The offensive pass interference penalty cost the Bulldogs a first down, but they got it by penalty on the next play. The other penalty was for a lineman illegally downfield on a first-down pass that fell incomplete and left Fresno State in a first-and-15 on the drive it ended up at third-and-9.
“There are a lot of things we can improve with and it may sound weird, but it’s something we probably needed to tighten it up and make sure we’re making plays in tight games,” Tedford said. “When you play tight games, you can’t win like that. You can’t rely on the defense all game long.”
Not weird at all, and starting conference play 2-0 for the first time in four seasons raises expectations. But the Bulldogs will have to raise their level of play to meet them and, with the football, they have struggled against two teams in San Jose State and Nevada that have struggled and are a combined 2-11.
Division divide – San Diego State and the Bulldogs are 2-0 in conference play, but the rest of the West Division is a combined 2-8 and UNLV (1-1), Nevada (1-1), Hawaii (0-3) and San Jose State (0-3) all have minus point differentials.
UNLV has been outscored by 11 in its five games, Hawaii by 58 points in its six games, Nevada by 70 in six and San Jose State by 189 in seven.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEW MEXICO AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 3-2, 2-0 Mountain West; Lobos 3-2, 1-1
- Webcast/radio: AT&T, ROOT/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: New Mexico had a bye week following a 56-38 victory over Air Force, its second win in a row. The Lobos went into the weekend averaging 266.8 rushing yards per game, third in the Mountain West. Running back Richard McQuarley tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in the victory over Air Force and is leading the Lobos’ attack, averaging 5.9 yards per play and 60.2 yards per game.