Fresno State is going to a bowl game, and they are going to a bowl game this holiday season, because of Marcus McMaryion, that’s why.
Not because he beat a winless Nevada team that makes you wonder if the 2016 Bulldogs didn’t just transfer to Reno between semesters.
But, because Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford has the one thing he needs to compete in the puke-smeared collective that passes for the Mountain West Conference these days.
The old Fresno State quarterback has a new Fresno State quarterback, giving McMaryion the keycard to the Fresno State offense in Saturday’s conference opener in his first start since transferring from Oregon State in the summer.
We promise you this: this team still has a lot of losing to do before all is well, but McMaryion won’t leave you pining for the Kilton Anderson/Zach Greenlee co-op.
“He did a good job,” Tedford said.
How good? Allow us to number four ways:
One – Number of throwaways on a night McMaryion completed 24 of 32 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. It was his first incompletion, on the last play of the first quarter, and it was brilliant.
From the Nevada 12, the mobile McMaryion faked the handoff and rolled right. When he saw nothing but tight coverage and small windows, the kid from Dinuba sailed the ball where only Row 2 fans could make the catch.
Take the field goal, don’t be a hero. No stupid allowed.
“Coach Tedford made it clear for me before the game: I don’t have to be Superman and make spectacular plays,” McMaryion said, as he tucked away his cape. “A younger Marcus would try to drive the ball in there.”
Eleven – Number of teammates who caught a pass from McMaryion, which says everything about how fast the post-graduate junior has gripped Tedford’s offense, known in publishing circles as the Book of a Million Options.
KeeSean Johnson was a clear favorite on two touchdown throws. When blocking tight end Kyle Riddering is making a catch, as well as a bunch of other fringe options? That’s called mastering the route tree.
“I like the way he slinged the ball around to a lot of different receivers,” Johnson said.
Thirteen – Number of passes completed within a stone’s skip of the scrimmage line, which is to say McMaryion took the smart path when the deep path was clogged with risk. That extends drives and keeps your defense rested for 33-plus game minutes.
In the first half, he completed 6 of 6 screen passes and 7 of 7 checkdown passes when all else failed. That’s smart football, no matter who is the opponent.
His only three incompletions in the first half were a throwaway and two drops. His one interception came when the receiver broke out and McMaryion thought he’d curl in.
Just enough to keep the kid humble.
“He wasn’t perfect tonight by any means,” Tedford said.
Forty-five – Number of airborne yards on McMaryion’s 63-yard chuck to Derrion Grim in the second quarter. It had velocity, it had accuracy, it had the blunt force to lift the lid on a Nevada defense that grew accustomed to playing the short game.
McMaryion’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Johnson was caught deep in perfect stride. A 22-yard pass to Da’Mari Scott was a soft-toss lob of perfection.
The kid has got a cannon of an arm and a soft air gun, all at once. He sidesteps the blitz and refuses to scramble, because it’s easier to throw the ball over the top of the defense than to run headlong into it.
“I was just out there, and guys were making plays for me,” McMaryion said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much.”
Given the condition of the Mountain West, it won’t take much. Yeah, Tedford said, “it’s one game,” but games like McMaryion’s are all these Bulldogs will ever need.
New Mexico Bowl, here Fresno State comes.
FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 4:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium (30,456)
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2, 1-0; Spartans 1-5, 0-2
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Spartans are off to a slow start under first-year coach Brent Brennan, opening the season 1-5 including a Mountain West loss Saturday night at UNLV. That one victory came against Cal Poly, a championship subdivision program. San Jose State is ranked last in the conference in scoring offense (15.8 ppg) and scoring defense (44.5 ppg).