For Fresno State, 5-0 in the Mountain West Conference was never that far away.
And in a 26-16 loss to UNLV on Saturday the Bulldogs were there. They were not playing particularly well, but in with a chance, tied in the fourth quarter and a play or two away. And after winning their first four conference games there had to be some confidence on the sideline that they would get it done.
But instead they fell apart in a quarter that they had played very well in their other conference games.
What did those final four 15-minute quarters look like?
▪ Fresno State had allowed opponents only 3.9 yards per play.
▪ The other guys had rushed it 36 times for 109 yards.
▪ They had completed only 21 of 48 passes (43.8 percent) for 211 yards and had an anemic passing efficiency rating of 76.51.
▪ They had scored only 10 points.
▪ They had turned it over three times.
On offense, Fresno State had done enough when not needing to do a whole lot. It went into the fourth quarter leading Nevada by 24, San Jose State by 14, New Mexico by 31 and San Diego State by 24, and just needed to run the clock and get out of those games.
Yeah, in the locker room, people are disappointed. There is no doubt about it. We have got to go back to work. Give them credit, they played well and we didn’t.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
It wasn’t much different against the Rebels – execute, win.
But the loss was all about the Bulldogs’ mistakes and whether they could crush them or the Rebels could capitalize on them, which team would be able to execute there.
“You cannot overlook any opponent,” quarterback Marcus McMaryion said. “I’m not saying we were lackadaisical at practice or anything like that. We just have to come in and treat every game like it’s a big game and a big week.
“We just can’t be shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s the biggest thing.”
The score was tied at 16 when Fresno State forced a punt, quarterback turned linebacker turned quarterback again Johnny Stanton misfiring badly on a 3rd-and-9 throw.
The Bulldogs were going to get the football back, coming off the best drive of the game, 89 yards and a tying touchdown by freshman running back Jordan Mims in 14 plays.
But KeeSean Johnson misjudged and then mishandled the Rebels’ punt. It hit the turf, was recovered by Darren Palmer. Four plays later, UNLV had a 23-16 lead.
The teams traded punts and then the Bulldogs took off again.
They moved from their own 15 to the UNLV 45 in pursuit of a touchdown to tie the score, but stalled. They threw the ball on 3rd-and-2, and after coach Jeff Tedford called a timeout with 7:41 to go to consider all of their options.
There was plenty of time to get a stop and get the ball back, but the Bulldogs also were 6 of 8 this season converting on fourth-down plays.
Then again, they also were just 1 of 3 on third-and-2 plays against the Rebels.
Tedford decided to punt the ball away.
The snap, though, went over the head of punter Blake Cusick, a 36-yard loss. UNLV gained possession at the Bulldogs’ 19, got as far as the eight and kicked a field goal to push their lead to two scores with five minutes to go.
“Like the coaches told us, we had a target on our backs,” linebacker Jeffrey Allison said. “We were undefeated in the conference and every team looked to want to beat us. They wanted to take that away from us and they did.”
How big were those mistakes?
UNLV scored the decisive 10 points while gaining 26 total yards in the quarter. It rushed it 12 times for 15 yards, 1.3 yards per play. It passed it four times, completing just one for 11 yards. It was 1 of 5 converting on third down, 20 percent.
It gained 26 yards in 16 plays and there are those numbers again; just a little irony there.
“They saw every opportunity and they took advantage of it. They wanted it more,” Allison said.
That has to hurt, and the Bulldogs can’t let it leave a mark.
“Every loss stings, there’s no doubt about that,” center Aaron Mitchell said. “Whether you lose three in a row or you’re on a roll and you lose one, it hurts. Talking to (offensive line coach Ryan Grubb), it’s an expensive loss.
“We lost, bottom line. But we can only go up from here. There are a lot of things we can fix and improve on. There’s a lot more football ahead of us. There are a lot more games where we can come out and put a good product on the field and that’s what we’re really looking forward to doing.”
Hard to do
Fresno State went into the game allowing only an average of 8.5 points in its first four conference games and it exited the loss to UNLV at 12.0 points, illustrating just how difficult it is for any team to maintain that level of play.
Here is another way ...
I think the offense played well at times but I totally put it on myself. There are throws out there that I could have made and extended drives. We just have to get better, myself included.
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion
Over the past 10 seasons there have been only four teams that made it through their conference seasons allowing fewer than 10 points per game. The list:
Alabama (SEC) in 2011, 7.4 points per game.
TCU (Mountain West) in 2010, 9.4 ppg
TCU (Mountain West) in 2008, 8.5 ppg
USC (Pac-12) in 2008, 8.9 ppg
Alabama is making a run at it again, allowing just 7.6 points in its first five SEC games. But no team in the American, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Mid-American or Sun Belt conferences has done it over the past 10 seasons.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BRIGHAM YOUNG AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7:45 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 5-3, 4-1 Mountain West; Cougars 2-7
- TV/radio: ESPN2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: BYU snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 41-20 victory on Saturday over a San Jose State team that is now 1-8 and has lost its road games by an average of 30.8 points. The Cougars have struggled on offense all season and went into that game against the Spartans averaging just 12.1 points per game, 128th in the nation. The 41 points were a season high and more than they had scored in their past three games combined – they scored 7, 10 and 17 points in losses to Boise State, at Mississippi State and at East Carolina. BYU has struggled in particular trying to rush the football. It averaged more than 200 yards a game on the ground last season, but in their first eight games averaged only 89.6 yards per game and had just three rushing touchdowns. The Cougars rushed for 266 yards in beating San Jose State, which is good for the Cougars, but nothing out of the ordinary for Spartans’ opponents. San Jose State had allowed 278.3 rushing yards per game, ranking 128th in the nation. It also had allowed 26 rushing touchdowns, ranking 129th.