Fresno State Football

Fresno State drops Mountain West opener, fails to stop Air Force’s physical ground attack

FINAL: Air Force 43, Fresno State 24

Fresno State had a bye week to prepare for Air Force and its option offense, but with two extra practices didn’t translate into much success slowing down the Falcons.

Air Force churned out 340 rushing yards in a 43-24 Mountain West Conference victory at Falcon Stadium on Saturday and had to throw the football just three times.

The Falcons had success with those plays, too, with quarterback Donald Hammond III hitting two for 81 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown.

The Bulldogs (2-3, 0-1 in the MW) started the game strong.

Quarterback Jorge Reyna hit 17 of his first 18 passes and Fresno State scored three touchdowns and kicked a field goal on their first four possessions.

But the Bulldogs did little in the second half — Fresno State generated just one first down after halftime — and never were able to slow down the Falcons ground game.

They had just 25 yards of offense with Reyna going 3 of 9 for 19 yards in the second half with an interception that was returned for a touchdown and the running game generating only six yards on four plays.

Falcons get a Pick 6

Air Force is up 43-24, scoring on a 24-yard interception return by Kyle Johnson with 12:22 to go.

Reyna, who was 17 of 18 in the first half, is 2 of 6 for 13 yards and the interception in the second. The interception snaps a streak of 95 consecutive passes without a pick for Reyna.

Air Force extends lead

The Falcons just went up 36-24 on a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Donald Hammond III with 13:16 to go in the fourth quarter. It was the second rushing TD for Hammond, the fourth for Air Force.

The Falcons now have 270 rushing yards on 52 plays, 5.1 yards per play.

Fresno State has run only 37 plays in the game.

Third quarter deficit

Air Force will take a 29-24 lead into the fourth quarter. It dominated the third, out-gaining the Bulldogs 112 to 22 and out-scoring them 7-0.

The Falcons will open the final quarter with the ball at the Fresno State 17 yard line.

Last season the Bulldogs outscored their opponents 157-24 in the third quarter. This season, they have been outscored 28-20.

Air Force back in the lead

Fresno State went three-and-out with its opening possession in the second half and a short punt set up Air Force to take the lead, which it did. The Falcons went 40 yards in 8 plays to go up 29-24 with 8:18 to go in the third quarter.

Air Force has rushed for 191 yards in 39 plays, 4.9 yards per play.

Bulldogs force a punt

Fresno State got Air Force off the field without allowing any points. The Falcons punt was the first for either team in the game, and the Bulldogs take over at their 10-yard line.

Reyna hit 17 of 18 in first half, but is trouble ahead?

Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna is 17 of 18 for 190 yards and two touchdowns at halftime, but through the first four games he has hit at a much higher percentage in the first half than in the second.

Reyna in the first half of the first four games hit 44 of 63 passes, 69.8%. Reyna in the second half of those games hit 44 of 78 passes, 56.4%. He also has averaged 8.3 yards per attempt in the first half and just 6.0 in the second.

On third downs …

Fresno State has converted 4 of 5 third-down plays and scored on two. The Air Force is 2 of 4. Both teams are averaging 3.5 yards to go for a first down.

The Bulldogs’ defense came into the game allowing just 2.9 yards on first-down rushing plays, but the Falcons have been able to stay in third-and-short by generating 5.1 yards on their first-down rushing plays.

Bulldogs back in front with FG, not TD

Fresno State was set up with good field position after Air Force went for an onside kick but didn’t recover the ball.

Despite starting at the Falcons’ 40-yard line, the Bulldogs’ drive stalled and had to settle for a 47-yard field goal from Cesar Silva.

Falcons take 22-21 lead

Air Force continues to have success with its run game, driving 75 yards in 12 plays to take a 22-21 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Donald Hammond III.

The Falcons went ahead with a 2-point conversion run by Hammond.

Air Force did have one pass play in there, Hammond hitting Geraud Sanders for a 28-yard gain.

Fresno State has allowed 144 rushing yards on 27 plays. This season it has allowed 175 rushing yards at USC, 146 to Minnesota, 12 to Sacramento State and 105 at New Mexico State.

Bulldogs back on top

Fresno State is back in the lead, up 21-14 with Ronnie Rivers scoring on a 26-yard run, capping a 73-yard drive.

The Bulldogs averaged just 1.6 yards per rush in the first quarter, but have three rushing plays for 52 yards so far in the second.

Reyna streak ends at 13

Bulldogs’ quarterback Jorge Reyna just had a pass tipped at the line and fall incomplete, ending a streak of 13 consecutive completions to start the game.

Ground Bulldog

Air Force has tied the score at 14, scoring on a 2-yard run by Tim Jackson. The Falcons used 14 plays to drive 75 yards, all of them on the ground. They are averaging 5.8 yards per rush.

About that 12 of 12 …

Derek Carr set the Fresno State record for single-game completion percentage, hitting 28 of 32 passes (87.5%) against Air Force in 2012.

In that game, Carr started 10 of 10 before throwing an incomplete pass.

Reyna is 12 of 12 and with 149 passing yards he already has more than he had in the Bulldogs’ victory at New Mexico State. Reyna was 20 of 31 for 147 yards in that game.

Reyna 12 of 12 with 2 TDs

Fresno State has a 14-7 lead with Jorge Reyna throwing his second touchdown pass, this one seven yards to Emoryie Edwards.

Reyna is 12 of 12 for 149 yards with two TDs with 3:51 remaining in the first quarter.

Air Force with quick answer

The Falcons answered the Fresno State touchdown with a 53-yard pass play to Ben Waters, tying the score at 7.

The Air Force drive was 75 yards in just three plays.

The touchdown was the third allowed by the Bulldogs on an opening drive in five games. USC and Minnesota also scored on their opening possessions.

Last season, the Bulldogs did not allow an opening-drive TD and only six points in their 14 games. Wyoming and Hawaii both had field goals on their opening possessions.

Bulldogs take quick lead

Fresno State took the opening kickoff 85 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jorge Reyna to Derrion Grim.

Reyna was 4 of 4 for 78 yards and the touchdown on the drive.

He hit Cam Sutton with a 29-yard pass and Emoryie Edwards with a 39-yard pass and run.

The Bulldogs had no explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards in a 30-17 victory at New Mexico State before its bye week.

Schmidt in at left guard

The Bulldogs have true freshman Bula Schmidt starting at left guard.

Schmidt has yet to play in a game this season, and this would be the fourth different starting lineup for the Bulldogs over the past four games.

From left tackle across the Bulldogs lined up with Dontate Bull, Schmidt, Matt Smith, Quireo Woodley and Syrus Tuitele.

Some pre-game reading before the Fresno State Bulldogs play the Air Force Falcons, 4 p.m. in Colorado Springs. The game is on CBS Sports Network. It’s the Mountain West Conference opener for Fresno State, which is 2-2 overall. Air Force comes in 3-2 and 1-1.

Bulldogs line combinations

Five games into the season Fresno State continues to tinker with its offensive line looking for the right combination, partly because of injury issues and partly because, as offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said, they’re just not there yet.

The Bulldogs the past two seasons thrived with cohesive offensive line units, but through four games they already have started three line groups.

This week, the status of left guard Netane Muti was not the only question.

“We are trying other guys at other positions, still working on getting that right mix,” Grubb said. “We’re just seeing who is performing at what spots, because we haven’t got the right mix yet and weren’t as productive as we wanted to be in the last game so we’re trying some things.”

The only positions that were set were center with fourth-year junior Matt Smith and right tackle with junior Syrus Tuitele.

“We’ll roll with those guys, but the other three spots we’re willing to try everybody,” Grubb said.

This is how the Bulldogs have lined up in their four games, left tackle to right …

  • USC: Bull, Muti, Smith, Woodley, Tuitele
  • Minnesota: Bull, Muti, Smith, Woodley, Tuitele
  • Sacramento State: Aibuedefe, Muti, Smith, Woodley, Tuitele
  • New Mexico State: Bull, Aibuedefe, Smith, Woodley, Tuitele

That last game, a 30-17 victory at New Mexico State, was a step back.

Fresno State (2-2) rushed for 239 yards, but the majority of it came on two runs from wideout Jalen Cropper – running backs Josh Hokit and Ronnie Rivers had 44 yards on 13 plays (3.44 ypp) and 42 yards on 13 plays (3.2 ypp).

The Bulldogs also had a season-low two explosive plays of 20 or more yards, the runs by Cropper that went for 25 yards and a 79-yard touchdown.

But with four new starters, there were going to be some potholes to navigate.

“I’ve never seen it where it doesn’t just start to solidify itself,” Grubb said. “Even last year when we were trying (Nick) Abbs and Logan Hughes and Logan just kind of took a strong hold on that thing and never gave it back. That’s what you see at times. Finally, the pieces click, whether it’s one guy or two guys working better together. That depends on a lot of factors, but that will play itself out.

“The good part is nobody gets upset about it. They don’t whine. They show up and know it’s not good enough and whatever positions they’re assigned to take on they’re going to take that on and work on making it better.”

Did you know?

The Bulldogs under coach Jeff Tedford are 2-0 in conference openers, winning by 19.0 points per game.

Related stories from Fresno Bee