Fresno State cornerback Tank Kelly had a wildly entertaining Saturday evening and before that, he played about three quarters of very good football in the Bulldogs’ 79-13 rout of Idaho.
Included were two interceptions, one that he returned 39 yards for a touchdown; a blocked field goal that was scooped up and returned for a score by Jaron Bryant; five tackles including four solo stops, and a third pass breakup.
He explained it in a way that few could.
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The field goal block, and taking advantage of an opening to rocket off the edge and get to the football: “Coach (Scott) Thompson likes to call it the ‘Big Fish’, and we found our Big Fish on their field goal team,” he said. “That’s all we did, just attacked the Big Fish, the weakest link. That’s how we got a block.
“A Big Fish is a person who basically is trembling, who shows weakness, who doesn’t block down too well or has the wrong footing, so we call them the Big Fish. They are the Big Fish on the market. That’s who we want to attack.”
The interceptions: “It was like taking candy from the candy shop today,” he said. “It was just being thrown out there. Everything was for free or on sale.”
In answering those questions, Kelly also inadvertently hit on what sets up the Bulldogs for a large matchup Saturday at Minnesota — a Power Five program that represents a very real opening to a potential bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Fact is, Fresno State did not play all that well in crushing Idaho.
It just played a very bad team.
The Bulldogs left a lot of plays on the field, which is nitpicking a bit given the final margin against the Vandals, who this season dropped down to the FCS level. But those are plays they will need the next two weeks playing at Minnesota and at UCLA and in their next three games when coming home to face a solid Toledo team.
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion did a very good job managing the game, making sure the Bulldogs were in the right plays, though against the Vandals, right or wrong didn’t much matter. His third-down passing, much better. He hit on 5 of 7 passes, 71.4 percent, for 83 yards and four first downs after hitting only 41.4 percent of those throws last season. But he also missed on a few plays including two shots down the field to wideout KeeSean Johnson, even if he did hit one for a 44-yard gain.
If that ball is out of his hand a second earlier, it’s a 75-yard touchdown.
Again, those are plays the Bulldogs will need.
Fresno State on three of its touchdown drives against Idaho went 56 yards in 11 plays, 80 yards in 12 plays and 93 yards in 12 plays.
Against Idaho, it’s fairly easy to sustain those drives.
Against a Power Five opponent on the road, no so much.
“It sets the tone, but I honestly don’t feel like we played up to our full ability,” said running back Jordan Mims, who scored three of the Bulldogs’ seven rushing touchdowns. “We had a lot of little things that we messed up on.”
The same sentiment came from the Bulldogs’ defense.
“We did well, but there are always small mental errors and mistakes that we can clean up,” said Bryant, who returned both blocked field goals for touchdowns, the first 74 yards and the second 71 yards. “The scoreboard showed it all, but at the end of the day, we still had little mistakes that we can perfect.”
That is where everything cycles back to Kelly, and his postgame comments.
Just as the Bulldogs’ staff knew where to find the soft spot in the Vandals’ field goal team, just as they knew how to put defenders into the right spots to pick off five passes, they know how to adjust and to fix and to game plan against an opponent’s soft spots.
McMaryion missed on some deep balls, but it’s not like that is a weakness. Fresno State last season ranked second in the Mountain West Conference last season with 54 explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards. McMaryion threw 45 of those passes including an 81-yard touchdown shot to Johnson in a victory over Boise State, a 75-yard play to Johnson and a 70-yard touchdown to Jamire Jordan in a victory over New Mexico.
If there are shots to be had at Minnesota, chances are the Bulldogs will execute those plays more cleanly than they did against the Vandals.
“It was good execution of certain phases of the game,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “We will watch the film and I am sure there are a lot of things we can improve on. We missed a big play for a touchdown pass, we dropped a few balls and things like that that you cannot afford to do in tight ball games.
“I thought we played together well on offense, defense and special teams. That is really the key. It is nice to get victory No. 1. You never know what the first game of the year is going to look like. I thought our guys took the field with really good focus and we need to continue doing that.”
By the numbers
33 – Jorge Reyna threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Derrion Grim on the first pass of his Fresno State career. The last Bulldog to throw for a touchdown on his first career attempt? Running back Josh Hokit, last season against Incarnate Word.
5 – Interceptions by the Bulldogs, two shy of the school record seven set in 1968 against Idaho State.
37 – Consecutive games with a reception for KeeSean Johnson, the longest streak in the nation. Johnson caught six passes on nine targets for 118 yards.
5 – Fresno State had five blocked field goals that were returned for touchdowns in its history before Jaron Bryant did it twice against the Vandals.
3 – Tackles for loss by defensive tackle Jasad Haynes, who was making his first career start.
1 – Tackle for loss allowed by the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
83.3 – The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on five of six trips into the red zone. Last season, they scored a touchdown on only 54.7 percent of their red zone trips.
38 – points off turnovers scored by Fresno State.
3 – Idaho was 3 of 13 converting third downs, but 3 of 3 on fourth down.
2 – Rushing plays of 20 or more yards by the Bulldogs, on pace for 24 this season. A year ago, they had only six, the fewest in the Mountain West.