Fresno State is 1-0 after outgunning Idaho 73-19 in its opener, but as the Bulldogs were reminded on the practice field Tuesday as they started game prep for a big test at Minnesota that the first victory doesn’t mean anything anymore.
It’s history, but that history also can be a guide for the Bulldogs in trying to take down a Power Five conference opponent for the first time since 2012.
Here are some things to watch:
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Fresno State converted 8 of its 13 third-down plays into a first down in its opening rout of Idaho, a big 61.5 percent, and a lot of that success occurred because of what the Bulldogs were able to do on first and second down against the overmatched Vandals.
They had manageable to-go distances, and an entire play sheet to draw from in getting after those plays. The average distance to move the chains was 5.1 yards, and that was inflated by a third-and-16 in the first quarter and a third-and-11 on the Bulldogs’ last drive long after they had drained all competitiveness from the game.
When Fresno State ranked only eighth in the Mountain West last season in third-down conversions (35.6 percent), the Bulldogs threw the ball in third-and-7 or longer situations 70 times, third most in the conference.
Second most was San Jose State, which is definitely not company to keep.
At Minnesota the Bulldogs will need a similar success on first and second downs to stay in manageable third downs against a Gophers defense that in its opener allowed New Mexico State to convert on just 2 of 17 third downs, and then execute those plays.
Pass rush production
The Bulldogs dialed up a fair amount of pressures against Idaho, but the pass rush didn’t consistently have the impact that it could have in this game.
The Bulldogs had one sack, by defensive tackle Jasad Haynes. They were credited with three quarterback hurries, one by Haynes and two by linebacker George Helmuth, though defensive end Mykal Walker could have been credited with one on the second-quarter play that Tank Kelly intercepted and returned 39 yards for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs obviously are working new combinations up front, but that still is a bit troubling given they were playing a FCS opponent and that FCS opponent had two inexperienced offensive tackles on the field most of the game in Logan Floyd and Irving Schuster, who had all of three starts between them going into the game. A year ago, that Bulldogs front was very productive with five of the top eight in tackles for loss, led by ends Robert Stanley (11.5) and Tobenna Okeke (11.0).
And Idaho did attempt 33 passes in the game.
“We’re trying to get our goal every week of a certain number of sacks, and we didn’t achieve that goal,” Walker said. “We’re going to come back, get in the film room, chop it up — and (defensive line coach Jamar Cain) does a great job of teaching us new things and as long as we trust that we’ll do pretty good.”
In its opener against New Mexico State, Minnesota started a fifth-year senior at left tackle and a third-year sophomore at right tackle, both large bodies in the 320-pound Donnell Greene and the 305-pound Sam Schlueter.
The Golden Gophers did not allow a sack and just two TFLs against the Aggies.
Fresno State has had a rough go against opponents from Power Five conferences, losing its past nine games by a combined 461-160.
That’s 33.4 points per game.
The last time the Bulldogs beat an opponent from a Power Five conference was 2012, a 69-14 blowout of Colorado at Bulldog Stadium.
That Colorado team and the Minnesota team Fresno State will play on Saturday have something in common — inexperience.
The Golden Gophers are starting a true freshman quarterback in Zack Annexstad and 53.1 percent of their roster (60 of 113) are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. There are 28 true or redshirt freshmen on the depth chart.
Colorado didn’t start a true freshman at quarterback, but junior Jordan Webb was making only his third career start and 45.1 percent of the Buffaloes’ roster (46 of 102) were true or redshirt freshmen. There were 21 freshmen listed on a two-deep that went four or five deep at some spots.
The Bulldogs could be in a perfect spot to exploit some of that inexperience: Minnesota played 28 freshmen in its opener including 16 true freshmen, seven on offense and nine on defense.
Freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad is an obvious target. In his first career start, Annexstad completed 16 of 33 passes (48.5 percent) for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
Get ready for Minnesota
Fresno State at Minnesota, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Saturday. TV: FS1 (find a channel guide here)
Each Fresno State football game week Robert Kuwada will report on keys to the game:
▪ 3 things to watch
▪ Need to know
▪ That’s trouble (Something the opponent does that could play well against Fresno State)