Fresno State has not played particularly well offensively the first two weeks of the football season, and that whole narrative about quarterback Marcus McMaryion taking a big forward step in the offense this year with a season and a spring practice and a summer of workouts and a full fall camp under him has fallen a bit flat.
“Just missed opportunities,” McMaryion said afterward. “On my part, I think I left a lot on the field that I could have taken advantage of a bit more just being more true to my progressions and kind of staying within myself and the offense.”
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Maybe that had something to do with the Bulldogs putting the ball in the hands of running back Josh Hokit on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line there at the end. Maybe it had nothing to do with that play call, a halfback pass intended for tight end Jared Rice that was picked off in the end zone.
They did have plenty of time on the clock (1:24) and a timeout available.
They could have set up that play with a run or run-pass option.
They could have done a lot of things with McMaryion, who to that point was 5 of 5 throwing the football in the red zone including a fourth-and-3 pass to Justin Allen that got the Bulldogs down to the 4-yard line and 8 of 9 now this season.
But it wasn’t the play call or even that play that cost the Bulldogs. It was what happened through the first three quarters.
Fresno State ran a total of 40 plays in its first nine series in the game while going three-and-out just two times. It had gained just 131 yards, 3.3 yards per play. It just didn’t execute plays to stay on the field and it had very manageable third downs – before scoring its first points with 20 seconds to go in the third quarter, the Bulldogs were 5 of 12 on third downs and the seven failed conversions included third-and-1 - twice- and a third-and-3.
“I don’t think anything really changed, we just started playing football,” McMaryion said. “There wasn’t anything we did special or any special plays calls that we made that were different. We just went out there, I guess kind of calmed our nerves a little bit and were just playing our offense.”
In a game full of misleading stats, then, the Bulldogs need to hope this one is revelatory.
The number: 3:33.
That is the Bulldogs’ time of possession in the fourth quarter when it had 131 of its 299 yards of total offense, six of its 13 first downs and averaged 9.4 yards per play.
It took far too long to get there, but they hit a much higher level of efficiency.
With another Power Five shot on Saturday at an 0-2 UCLA, they need to build on that on the practice field and take it with them to the Rose Bowl.
Fresno State is better than it has played in beating up an out-manned Idaho and losing at Minnesota; it is at least with less operator error within its offense.
By the numbers
4.3 – Yards per play for Minnesota, the lowest Fresno State has allowed against a Power Five conference team since beating Colorado in 2012. That’s big for the Bulldogs. The past few games: Alabama (7.5 ypp), Washington (7.3), Nebraska (6.3), Ole Miss (8.4).
5 – Wins by Group of Five teams on Saturday over Power Five teams. Houston beat Arizona (45-18), South Florida beat Georgia Tech (49-38), East Carolina beat North Carolina (41-19), Eastern Michigan beat Purdue (20-19) and Colorado State beat Arkansas (34-27).
4 – Three-and-outs for the Minnesota offense; the Bulldogs had only two.
1 – Explosive plays of 20 or more yards by Minnesota; the Bulldogs had four.
44.1 – Yard average on seven punts for Blake Cusick, with six downed inside the Golden Gophers’ 20-yard line and the seventh at the 20. Minnesota following a Bulldogs’ punt started at its own 20, 9, 10, 16, 12, 17 and 2.
146 – Yards gained by the Bulldogs on their final two series; 153 on the first 10.
4.9 – Average gained by the Bulldogs on first down.
33.3 – Fresno State converted only 2 of 6 plays when rushing it on third down with one to four yards to go for a first down.
88:50 – In wins over New Mexico State and Fresno State, the Golden Gophers went almost six full quarters without allowing a point. The Bulldogs scored their first points with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
6 – Games since Fresno State allowed a 100-yard rusher. Bryce Williams led the Golden Gophers with 87 rushing yards; the last back to top 100 against the Bulldogs is Diocemy Saint Juste from Hawaii last year with 104 yards on 22 plays.