A lot can go wrong, and does, and usually it all comes back to the quarterback. It's in the job description. And for Fresno State, during the first three weeks of the season, plenty went awry.
A lot of that is due to the quality of opponent the Bulldogs faced out of the gate: at USC, at Utah and against Nebraska. And, a lot of that is due simply to operator error, not only by the quarterback, but the offensive line, the inside and outside receivers groups, the running backs. Not all at once, best case, but one mistake anywhere is enough to scuttle a play.
A missed block, a bad route, whatever. The Bulldogs just had trouble executing -- play-to-play, series-to-series, game-to-game -- most often early in games. The offense still hasn’t generated a single point in the first quarter.
So what happened Friday in a 35-24 victory at New Mexico that got the Bulldogs off to a 1-0 start in Mountain West play and on the right track competing for what would be a third consecutive conference championship, somehow just makes sense. And what happened for the Bulldogs and quarterback Brian Burrell in that victory over the Lobos is something that the Bulldogs and Derek Carr managed only once and Carr with his 27 school and 41 conference records made in 39 starts when at Fresno State.
It's this: Fresno State, which has punted 35 times in five games, including 17 times after a three-and-out possession, put together five touchdown drives of at least eight plays and covering at least 75 yards.
• Eight plays, 75 yards and a touchdown.
• Eight plays, 87 yards and a touchdown.
• Twelve plays, 92 yards and a touchdown.
• Eleven plays, 81 yards and a touchdown.
• Nine plays 80 yards and a touchdown.
That requires a heightened level of execution from all involved parties, certainly more than the Bulldogs displayed in their first four games.
"I was really pleased with the way Brian led our guys down the field," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "I think he's getting more and more confident. I think the guys around him are getting more confidence in him, and he's able to play with tempo and get us in the right play and get going fast."
In the Bulldogs' first four games, they started 40 drives at or inside their own 25-yard line and made their way into the end zone only seven times; two against Southern Utah.
Five times in one game, that doesn't happen often.
In 2006, Fresno State had only nine touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer all season.
How does Carr play into that equation? Last season, when the Bulldogs were shredding opposing defenses with Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper, they had one game with five or more touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer. It was against New Mexico. Stunner. Fresno State had six in that game, and while that can be mitigated by the whim of kickoff and punt returns and defensive stops, the Bulldogs had ample opportunity. Fresno State started 10 drives at or inside its 25-yard line against Rutgers and scored on two of those drives. It had nine against San Diego State and scored on two of those drives. It had eight in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC and didn't score on any of those drives.
For the year, they scored 32 touchdowns out of 97 drives that started at or inside the 25-yard line.
Burrell has a lot to improve -- with his reads, with his decision-making; often he has held on to the ball a little too long, delivering passes late. But DeRuyter can see that improving as well, as the Bulldogs and their junior quarterback continue to grow into the offense.
"The more he runs this offense, the more comfortable he gets, the more he can anticipate things as opposed to waiting and having to see it for himself instead of anticipating the throws are going to be there," DeRuyter said. "Derek was that way early in his career and got better at it, and I think Brian will do the same."
forced seven turnovers in beating Boise State to snap a 10-game losing streak in conference play -- the last victory came against Hawaii on Nov. 16, 2012. The Falcons had lost those games by an average of 20.7 points. The seven turnovers are the most they have had in a game since forcing seven in a victory against Wyoming on Sept. 19, 1992. The Falcons had forced only eight turnovers over their past 13 games before taking apart the Broncos.
andSan Diego State
are two of only nine teams in the FBS that have yet to lose a fumble. The Rebels have fumbled four times and the Aztecs only once, and they have recovered every one of them.
kept its scoring streak alive at 216 consecutive games in its loss at Air Force, the second longest streak in the conference. But the Broncos didn't get on the scoreboard until there was only 9:55 remaining in the game -- the deepest they have been in a game before scoring since 1999 whenBryan Harsin
threw a touchdown pass in a 38-7 loss at UCLA with two minutes to go. That is a while ago -- Harsin is now the Boise State coach.
•San Jose State
was not penalized once in a loss at Minnesota two weeks ago -- the first time that had happened since a 29-16 loss at Brigham Young in 2011, a span of 35 games. The Spartans followed that up with a season-high nine penalties last week in a loss to Nevada.
•San Jose State
has allowed only 71 passing yards in its past two games (7 at Minnesota and 64 to Nevada), the first time the Spartans have held back-to-back opponents to fewer than 100 passing yards since 2004 when Rice had 64 and Washington had 75. They at least beat Rice.
• New Mexico linebackerDakota Cox
had 19 tackles in the loss to the Bulldogs, one shy of the high in the FBS this season. Cox, who is leading the nation in total tackles, has had games of 17, 18 and 19 tackles.
ON A ROLL
A roll, of course, being relative. ... Colorado State took to the road to beat Boston College, which was the Rams’ third victory in a row against a team from a Power 5 Conference.
The Rams beat Colorado in their season opener and scored 18 points in the final 2:52, and 11 points in the final 33 seconds to beat Washington State last season in the New Mexico Bowl.
Three in a row might not sound like much -- and it isn't -- but at present no team from outside the Power 5 has a three-game win streak against teams from the high-resource conferences and that also is the longest winning streak that any current Mountain West program has ever had over Power-5 opponents as a member of the conference.
Some schools have to go back a long way to find a victory over a Power-5 program. Air Force last beat a Power-5 opponent in the 2010 Independence Bowl, a win over Georgia Tech. The most recent win for New Mexico came in 2008 against Arizona. Same for UNLV -- it beat Iowa State in 2008. And Wyoming -- it won at Tennessee in 2008.
Hawaii and San Jose State have no victories against Power-5 teams since joining Mountain West, going 0 for 6 and 0 for 4 in those matchups.