The final score, 24-17, sounds close. In losing for the first time this season in Mountain West Conference play, though, the Fresno State Bulldogs really weren’t that close.
Even with a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter and with a defense that has been stellar in the second half of its conference games, the Bulldogs (8-2, 5-1 in the MW) were in a tenuous spot. They had allowed just 7.2 points a game in conference play, but were unable to knock Boise State and its quarterback Brett Rypien off schedule or take away anything the Broncos wanted to do., early, middle or late.
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Boise State (8-2, 5-1) had 10 series in the game and nine of them ended on the Fresno State side of the field, three in a row in the end zone in the third and fourth quarters.
“They moved the ball fairly effectively most of the game,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “They’re a great offense. They do a great job. They have a lot of playmakers, they ran the ball hard with a really good back. Rypien kind of killed us with his legs a little bit. When we had them covered he pulled it down and made some plays with his legs. Give them credit. They played well and we made too many mistakes.”
Rypien crushed the Bulldogs with his arm and a few times with his legs, and that No. 16 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25, the No. 17 ranking in the Coaches Poll and the No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings all are now a footnote.
Fresno State had not played a quarterback with that level of experience in leading the conference in passing defense, but it had been hurt by quarterbacks who could make plays and move the chains using their legs on designed runs or evading pressure.
They couldn’t stop either facet Friday night.
Rypien, who in the game became the all-time leader in the Mountain West Conference in passing yards and completions, hit 24 of 29 passes for 269 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He had a streak where he completed eight passes in a row early in the game and he finished it hitting his last nine passes and 11 of the last 12. Rypien also ran eight times for 30 yards, with three of those plays resulting in a first down.
The Broncos’ run game pounded out 179 yards with 144 of it from Alexander Mattison, who carried the ball a career-high 30 times.
Boise State had 448 yards of offense and it was a constant pressure. It had only three explosive plays of 20 or more yards, including passes for 41 and 49 yards, the latter a touchdown to Khalil Shakir that put the Broncos in the lead with 5:11 to go.
“That was a third-down call that we had dialed up for a couple drives, and I was begging Coach (Zak) Hill to call it – I thought it was going to be a good one for us,” Rypien said.
“They had shown a ‘sit at the sticks’ a lot on third downs, waiting for any stop routes and things like that, so we had a nice little flood concept dialed up where we got the safety to jump the flag and Khalil is about as fast as they come, so he was able to get over the top and all I had to do was put it on him.”
With those big plays Boise State also had nine passes and six rushes of 10 or more yards. They were 10 of 16 on third downs, converting at a 62.5 percent clip, and the average yards to gain to move the sticks was just 4.6 yards.
Fresno State had not allowed a team to convert 10 or more third-down plays since a 2015 loss to Utah, the Utes going 13 of 19, 68.4 percent.
Boise State had only three points in the first half, but it had ended drives at the Fresno State 33 with a missed field goal, the 18 with a field goal, the 43 with a punt, the 13 with a fake field goal attempt that was blown up by the Bulldogs and at the 26 with an interception in the end zone by Bulldogs safety Juju Hughes.
“We knew we were moving the ball on them,” Rypien said. “I didn’t feel they were stopping us at any point. … I just told the guys in the locker room that they hadn’t really stopped us. I felt like we were playing well for the most part and just needed to finish drives, and we were able to do that.”
Next for Bulldogs
Saturday: 7:30 p.m. vs. San Diego State at Bulldog Stadium, first of two home games to close regular season.
TV: CBS Sports Network
San Diego State: 7-2 overall, 4-1 in the Mountain West (28-24 at Nevada) heading into Saturday night home game vs. UNLV.
By the numbers
6.9 – Yards per play on first downs for Boise State … and for Fresno State.
20.0 – Conversion percentage on third downs for Fresno State. The Bulldogs were 2 of 10, the two conversions their fewest in a game since the Mountain West championship loss at Boise State last season. They were 2 of 13 in that game. The Bulldogs’ average yards to gain was 10.0. That was skewed by a third-and-29 in the first quarter, but they still had only one third-and-short play in the game.
144 – The 144 rushing yards by Boise State back Alexander Mattison marked only the fourth time the Bulldogs have allowed a rusher 100-plus yards under Tedford and were the second-most allowed in those 24 games. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is at the top of that list with 154 yards.
12:08 – Edge in time of possession in favor of Boise State through three quarters. The Broncos had the ball for 28:36, running 59 plays. The Bulldogs had it for 16:24, running 40 plays.
14 – Tackles for Fresno State linebacker Jeff Allison, seven solo.
3,076 – Career receiving yards for KeeSean Johnson, who caught eight passes for 95 yards and one touchdown. Johnson moved past Davante Adams and into third place on the all-time Fresno State receiving yards list. The senior now trails only Charlies Jones (3,344 yards from 1992 to ‘95) and Rodney Wright (3,274 yards from 1998 to 2001).
87 – Rushing yards gained by the Bulldogs’ running backs – Jordan Mims had 47 yards on eight plays, Ronnie Rivers had 33 on seven and Josh Hokit had seven on two.
3 – Sacks by Boise State. Fresno State had allowed only three sacks in its first nine games, and had not allowed more than one in any game.
9 – Penalties on Fresno State, which went into the game second in the Mountain West with 5.1 penalties per game. The nine penalties were a season-high and the most they have had in a game since they had 10 in a 27-10 victory at San Jose State last season.