There was a shift, maybe in the second half of the Minnesota loss when Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion after a rough start put the pieces together and twice put the Bulldogs in the end zone.
Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said he sensed it during the week of practice headed into a 49-27 rout of Toledo on Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium.
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“This season has already presented some moments of growth for him,” DeBoer said. “The response that he’s going to have, I saw it at UCLA, that he has made a decision that he’s going to move forward and he’s going to be positive and he’s going to learn from the things that happened and improve our chances for success the rest of the game.”
And after taking apart Toledo, they all could be headed for a lot of fun in Mountain West play with a defense that is on a historic run and a quarterback playing at a level in line with Derek Carr circa 2013 and ‘12 when Fresno State won 20 games and back-to-back conference championships.
McMaryion hit 24 of 31 passes for a career-high 368 yards with four touchdowns and one pass rush-induced interception against the Rockets.
Before that, he was 22 of 33 for 270 yards with one touchdown and no picks at UCLA.
Add it together, spin it through the NCAA passing efficiency rating formula, and it comes out to 178.27, a number that ranks among the top two-game stretches against FBS opponents for a Fresno State quarterback over the past decade.
Carr surpassed that rating four times over a two-game stretch, two of them coupled with a video-game victory over New Mexico in which he hit 27 of 37 passes for 522 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in a 69-28 victory.
The Bulldogs’ top two-game stretches …
Carr vs. New Mexico and San Jose State in 2013
Carr vs. Wyoming and New Mexico in 2013
Carr vs. New Mexico and Hawaii in 2012
Ryan Colburn vs. Idaho and Nevada in 2009
Carr vs. Nevada and Air Force in 2012
McMaryion vs. UCLA and Toledo in 2018
“We had a good game plan going into tonight’s game, and we executed it well,” McMaryion said. “Every defense has its holes and our coaches do a great job of putting us in a good position to be successful in every game.”
That’s a good place to start conference play; the Bulldogs open at Nevada, which was ranked 11th in the Mountain West in passing defense before winning on the road on Saturday at Air Force with its ground-centric offense.
McMaryion is managing games at a high level, getting the Bulldogs in the right plays and executing. Against Toledo, he hit 10 different receivers with at least one pass. He had five explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards, started the game with eight consecutive completions and had two stretches where he hit six passes in a row.
“I thought he was very efficient, especially with some of the balls down field,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He managed the game really well and he was very accurate. I thought Marcus threw a really good game and was spot on.”
The Bulldogs’ surge offensively just makes them doubly difficult for opponents, with a defense led by linebacker Jeff Allison putting together another strong game, this one against an offense that had come in eighth in the nation in averaging 51.0 points per game.
Fresno State has now allowed fewer than 30 points in 15 consecutive games, its longest such streak since it ended the 1983 season with a six-game streak and started the ‘84 season with a 10-game streak. This is difficult to fathom, but the Bulldogs allowed more than 30 points a game for four consecutive seasons before Tedford was hired and had his defense run by Orlondo Steinauer and now by Bert Watts.
It was 30.9 in 2016, 38.1 in 2015, 32.4 in 2014 and 30.3 in 2013.
Against Toledo, the Bulldogs held an offense churning out 465.0 yards and 51.0 points per game well under those averages. They racked up a season-high five sacks (they had only three in their first three games). They had a season-high nine tackles for loss (they had only 11 coming in). Through three quarters, they allowed the Rockets only 3.8 yards per play, an abysmally low number.
“Our coaches do a great job showing us little things on film,” said defensive end Mykal Walker, who had 2.5 of the Bulldogs’ tackles for loss and returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown. “We had a couple tendencies, a couple of things to look out for.
“Give all the credit to the coaches. They come in here every day, stay here long hours. They basically gave us all the answers to the test.”
By the numbers
5.7 – Yards per rush for the Bulldogs in the second half (22 plays, 126 yards). In the first half they averaged only 3.8 yards (16 plays, 60 yards).
126 – Receiving yards on six catches for Jordan Mims, the first time a Fresno State running back had 100 receiving yards in a game since Paris Gaines had 102 on four receptions against Air Force in 2000 and the most by a Fresno State running back since Dale Messer had 172 on six receptions against Cal Poly in 1960.
213.26 – Passing efficiency rating for Marcus McMaryion.
0 – Third down plays where Fresno State needed to gain 10 or more yards to gain a first down. The last was a third-and-15 in the third quarter at Minnesota. The Bulldogs have run 33 third-down plays since then, converting at 57.6 percent.
40 – Consecutive games with at least one reception for KeeSean Johnson, the longest active streak in the nation.
11 – Times in the past 18 games Mike linebacker Jeff Allison has led the Bulldogs in tackles.
5.3 – Yards per play for Toledo, a season-low. The Rockets averaged 5.7 in a loss to No. 16 Miami.
21 – Points in the third quarter by Fresno State. It is now averaging 14.3 points in the third quarter.