It’s no secret. Fresno State has struggled lately against Power Five conference opponents. The past nine games, an 0-fer. And they haven’t been close. But in going to Minnesota on Saturday, there are some hints that could change against the Golden Gophers.
The talent the Bulldogs will put on the field is only part of it.
The mindset is another.
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“The name doesn’t mean anything anymore to us,” cornerback Jaron Bryant said. “At the end of the day, they put on their shoes the way we do – one foot at a time. They put on their pants on one leg at a time, just like we do. The name doesn’t mean anything. At the end of the day, you have to play hard football.”
Suffice it to say, there was the time the name did mean something.
“It did,” Bryant said. “As soon as we played the big names we used to get scared. My freshman year we played big-name schools and we thought, ‘We’re going to lose.’ “
When Bryant was a freshman in 2016 Fresno State opened the season at Nebraska.
“Now it’s, ‘Let’s play,’ “ Bryant said. “Coach (Jeff) Tedford came in with that system, that mindset of, ‘It doesn’t matter who we line up against, we have to play hard-nosed football.’ That’s what Jim Sweeney installed here in this program and with coach Tedford kind of related to coach Sweeney, he took that and ran with it.”
The Bulldogs are a 2 1/2-point underdog to Minnesota.
Third and gold
Bulldogs’ quarterback Marcus McMaryion was 5 of 7 throwing the football on third downs in the Bulldogs’ opener against Idaho including a 19-yard shot to KeeSean Johnson on a third-and-16 and a 44-yard pass to Johnson on a third-and-7.
More than the numbers, the management of the offense and the situations impressed offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer; McMaryion last season hit just 41.4 percent of his passes on third downs.
“We took a timeout because we didn’t get the look we saw on a certain play, the third-and-16, and we came out and actually got a different look and converted throwing the football on time, in windows that weren’t tighter than the ones we saw last year. but Marcus and KeeSean were on the same page and made a really nice play,” DeBoer said.
“I was excited about little things like that throughout the course of the game. Some of those things, I told the guys, a year ago we didn’t make those plays.”
The Golden Gophers are 9-0 against Group of Five programs over the past four seasons, including a 48-10 victory over New Mexico State in their 2018 opener.
They have not, though, been miles ahead, at least not on the scoreboard.
In those nine games, Minnesota has a 10-point win over Buffalo (17-7) last season, a 7-point win over Colorado State (31-24) in 2016, a 3-point wins at Colorado State (23-20) and over Kent State (10-7) and Ohio (27-24) in 2015.
One more, and …
Fresno State scored 11 touchdowns in its opening win over Idaho and is leading the nation in scoring offense – it had seven rushing touchdowns, one passing, two on blocked field goal returns and one on an interception return.
Hard to believe, but in 2000 Louisiana-Monroe scored 12 touchdowns all season.
Minnesota has won its past eight non-conference games at home, the most recent loss to TCU in 2015.
Watch the Wildcat
Minnesota hit at a high percentage out of a Wildcat formation in its opening victory over New Mexico State, with former quarterback Seth Green taking the snaps.
Green, who is playing primarily as a wideout, ran two plays.
The first, a 9-yard touchdown run.
The second, a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Bulldogs’ five interceptions in their season-opening 79-13 rout of Idaho matched a number that they had three times over the past 10 seasons.
Fresno State had five interceptions in 12 games in 2016, five interceptions in 13 games in 2011 and five interceptions in 13 games in 2008.
Defensive end Leevel Tatum III, an Edison High product, had one of those interceptions, making a dive to get his hands under a ball that was tipped at the line by Ricky McCoy.
It was the first pick by a Bulldogs’ defensive lineman since 2013 when Nikko Motta had one in a 61-14 victory at Idaho.
Take a pass on the pass?
The Golden Gophers had freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad throw 33 passes last week in a 48-10 victory over an over-matched New Mexico State, and put it up 34 times in all while rushing the football 47 times.
That run-pass balance is worth paying attention to, particularly early in the game.
Will Minnesota limit Annexstad’s exposure to a Bulldogs’ defense that runs a myriad of fronts, blitzes and disguise and last week intercepted five passes?
The Golden Gophers could pound away on the ground against the Bulldogs’ run defense – they are 9-1 the past 10 games when they have rushed the ball 45 or more times.
On the move
Rodney Smith, the Golden Gophers’ lead running back, is 42 yards short of becoming only the sixth player in school history with 3,000 rushing yards.
He rushed for a career high 153 yards against New Mexico State, averaging 6.4 yards per play.