Fresno State Football

Bulldogs don’t take advantage of rare run game success in error-plagued loss to Colorado State

Not a lot about the Fresno State Bulldogs’ 41-31 loss to Colorado State on a Homecoming Saturday is going to make sense, starting with the outcome.

The Bulldogs were a 14-point favorite and playing at home, where they had won 13 of their past 15 games with 11 of those wins coming by 10 or more points, eight by 20 or more points and four by 30 or more points. They also were playing a 2-5 team whose wins were over FCS Western Illinois and 2-6 New Mexico.

That was before the kickoff.

Get this …

Fresno State was just 2 of 13 on third downs and every single one of those plays was a pass. The Bulldogs quite often were stuck in third-and-10 or more. Six times, in fact, including a third-and-14, a third-and-18 and a third-and-21.

But they also had a third-and-3, and quarterback Jorge Reyna was sacked trying to throw.

They had a third-and-1, and completed a pass for no gain.

They had a third-and-2, and completed a pass for a loss of 2 yards.

They had a third-and-3, and fired a pass incomplete.

“There are little details that will definitely be learning opportunities for us,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “When we are only getting two yards deep on a route when we need three or four for a first down, those are learning opportunities.

“It wasn’t good enough. The detail, we have to get better at the details and make sure we understand the down and distance and give ourselves a chance to convert.”

That obviously is to the point. But the Bulldogs also attempted all those third-down passes in a game they actually had success in the run game.

Fresno State’s Josh Hokit, center, runs through an attempted tackle by Colorado State’s Jan-Phillip Bombek, left, and Jamal Hicks, right, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

They started horribly with minus-1 yard on their first nine rushing plays, including two sacks. But with a short field after a 37-yard Colorado State punt in the second quarter, that all changed.

Ronnie Rivers returned that punt 9 yards to the Rams’ 37 and Fresno State covered that ground rushing the football, five plays in a row. They started to gash the Rams on the ground.

Fresno State’s Ronnie Rivers, left, fends off Colorado State’s Jamal Hicks, right, in the Rams’ 41-31 victory over the Bulldogs Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Fresno. Rivers rushed for a season-high 146 yards in the loss. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

Then, Fresno State rushed the ball 14 times in the second half and gained 145 yards, averaging 10.4 yards per play. The Bulldogs running backs had just two explosive rushing plays of 20 or more yards in the first six games and they had three in the second half against the Rams with Rivers going for 37 yards, then 20, then 45.

The junior running back finished with 146 yards on 14 plays, topping the 100-yard mark for the first time this season and fourth time in his career.

Colorado State loaded the box on some of those third-and-short plays, but not all of them. It wasn’t going to make it easy. But this season it had also allowed opponents to convert at the fourth highest rate in the conference when a team rushed at it on 3rd-and-short.

The bottom five in the conference:

.813 Air Force, 13 of 16

.684 Hawaii, 13 of 19

.677 San Jose State, 21 of 31

.667 Colorado State, 14 of 21

.611 Fresno State, 11 of 18

And, no matter the down or the distance, it had one of the worst rushing defenses in the conference. The Rams came in ranked 11th in the Mountain West against the run allowing 220.7 yards per game, as well as 5.2 yards per play.

Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna, center, slides to the ground pursued by Colorado State’s Jan-Phillip Bombek, background, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

The Bulldogs just didn’t play to that when attacking the Rams.

In the second half, Fresno State had a pass-run ratio that was almost 2-to-1 with Reyna throwing the ball 26 times and the Bulldogs rushing it 14 times.

Of those 26 passes, 13 fell incomplete.

In the fourth quarter, Reyna also threw two interceptions.

There is a lot in play in this stat, but Reyna in the first half has completed 72.4% of his passes and is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt and Reyna in the second half has completed 55.3% of his passes and is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt.

“Obviously, not good enough to win,” Tedford said. “We had too many mistakes, penalties. They outplayed us and we didn’t deserve to win the game.

Fresno State’s Jalen Cropper, left, evades Colorado State’s Manny Jones, right, in the Bulldogs’ 41-31 loss Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

“We have to learn from some of those mistakes. We were penalized. It took some big plays away from us and put us behind the sticks quite a bit. We have to clean that up. We gave up a lot of big plays. We have to go back and watch it and correct the mistakes.”

But with all of that, the most nonsensical thing about the Bulldogs’ loss might be this – Fresno State, at 3-4 and 1-2 in conference play, still is in control of its fate in the West Division. That’s because the two teams ahead of them have losses: San Diego State (4-1) and Hawaii (2-2). The Bulldogs head to Honolulu for a Saturday night game.

By the numbers

9 – Penalties against Fresno State including four false starts and two holding penalties, both of them coming on first down. The holding calls put the Bulldogs in a first-and-20 at their 13 and a first-and-goal from the Colorado State 18.

11 – Tackles for linebacker Justin Rice including nine solo. Rice has now had 10 or more tackles in four consecutive games and six of seven.

Tight end Cam Sutton, left, and wide receiver Chris Coleman, right, take to the air as the Fresno State Bulldogs take the field against Colorado State on Saturday. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

1 – Sack for the Bulldogs, by Mykal Walker in the second quarter. That was the first sack for the Bulldogs since the second quarter of their win at New Mexico State on Sept. 28. Colorado State went into the game tied for 10th in the Mountain West in sacks allowed with 17. Fresno State had no sacks last week against UNLV, which went into that game last in the conference in sacks allowed with 18.

5 – Three-and-outs for the Bulldogs, a season-high.

6 – Interceptions thrown by quarterback Jorge Reyna. Five of them have come in the fourth quarter or in overtime.

17 – Points in the fourth quarter for Colorado State, the most allowed by the Bulldogs since Washington put up 27 points in the first quarter of a 48-16 victory on Sept. 16, 2017, the third game of the Jeff Tedford era.

10 – Rushing touchdowns for the Bulldogs in their past 14 red zone possessions.

37 – Average points allowed by Fresno State in three Mountain West games. Air Force scored 43, UNLV 27 and Colorado State 41. Last season Fresno State led the MW in allowing only 11.4 points per game in conference play. They allowed only 12 touchdowns in nine games including the MW championship game, and in their first three games this season have given up 14 touchdowns.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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