Sameness was no longer an option. Unless Fresno State wanted its football season all but dead and buried in September, something had to change.
Things changed all right – at first in a positive manner few could have anticipated.
Then the team in red reverted right back to its old, bad form. Then, some unexpected, encouraging fight.
Finally, an all-too familiar result.
Two-touchdown underdogs on their own field, the Bulldogs for the first time in 2016 resembled a team that has a chance to be competitive in the Mountain West. At least they did while amassing a 31-0 second-quarter lead. But by the time the rubber pellets settled Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Stadium, Tulsa escaped with a 48-41 victory in double overtime.
There were 23,237 announced witnesses (much fewer in actuality) and countless others who were left scratching their heads and pulling out their hair.
First, how in the heck did the Bulldogs jump ahead by 31 points? Second, how did the lead evaporate in what felt like an instant?
There are no rational explanations. They just happened, and as a result Fresno State squandered a chance for a much-needed boost of momentum and instead became the biggest comeback victims in Tulsa history.
“Anytime you lose, it’s like ripping your guts out,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. He did not add “especially after we led 31-0.” There was no need.
Anytime you lose, it’s like ripping your guts out.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
Quarterback Chason Virgil described the locker-room mood as “(an angry) feeling from everyone because we knew we should’ve won that game.”
Just when you think the Bulldogs (1-3) were poised for a dramatic turnaround, they’re right back where they started. And after blowing such a big lead, I’m not sure they aren’t worse off now than before.
What a crazy, topsy-turvy game.
Tulsa came out so lethargic, and stayed that way for most of the first half, that you almost wondered if the players and coaches had tickets to the early Garth Brooks show.
Don’t be silly. Trailing 31-0 early in the second quarter, the Golden Hurricane responded with three touchdowns in the span of 4 minutes, 33 seconds to make the halftime score 31-21.
That was enough to make everyone with Bulldog leanings fear the worst. Then the worst came to fruition as Fresno State managed but 10 points in the second half and overtime.
“We weren’t mature enough to get it done,” DeRuyter said.
Early on, the atmosphere felt less like an actual game and more like a spring scrimmage.
There were so few fans in the stands for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff (thanks, Garth) that each could’ve spread out in their own row. Brooks’ football camp for kids at Clovis High, which took place at the same time, probably had a larger turnout.
There were so few fans in the stands for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff (thanks, Garth) that each could’ve spread out in their own row.
It was so eerily quiet I could hear Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans bark signals way up in the press box.
What took place in the first quarter only added to the “Twilight Zone” effect.
Based on what we’ve seen so far this season and last, it’s usually Fresno State that falters often and early.
Saturday, the cleat was on the other foot.
This time, the other team fumbled deep in its own end. The other team stepped out of bounds at the 4 during a kickoff return. The other team committed dumb penalties that led to first downs. The other team let up for an instant when it looked like a play was dead, and gave up a fluky touchdown.
This time it was Fresno State that went for it on fourth-and-inches – and caught everyone by surprise when Virgil ran the read option to perfection for a 14-yard touchdown.
This time it was the Bulldogs who sacked Evans four times and chased him all over the field. (Evans was under so much pressure early you may have thought Marcus Riley was in uniform and not serving as honorary captain.)
This time it was Fresno State special-teamer Mike Bell delivering a pulverizing block, clearing room for a 24-yard punt return.
“We fought so hard out there, and I hope everybody saw it,” senior linebacker Jeff Camilli said.
We fought so hard out there, and I hope everybody saw it.
Bulldogs senior linebacker Jeff Camilli
This time could not have been any more different than what we witnessed during last week’s 52-17 loss at Toledo or for long stretches against Nebraska or Sacramento State.
The trip on Easy Street didn’t last. Just like you knew it wouldn’t. In the end, Fresno State reverted to its level – which we all know isn’t especially high.
Once Tulsa got its high-octane offense in gear, there was little the Bulldogs could do to stop the deep passes and long runs. At the same time, the big plays on offense dried up.
When I wrote last week that Fresno State and especially DeRuyter were out of wiggle room entering Week 4, that was no exaggeration.
The reversal needed to begin immediately, before the Bulldogs crack open the Mountain West schedule with back-to-back road games at UNLV and Nevada. What took place Saturday afternoon was certainly not that.
Yet Fresno State was competitive against a quality opponent. Extremely so. If that’s the new standard, the Bulldogs attained it. If only winning matters, there’s still some ground to cover.
Tulsa 48, Fresno State 41
FRE — Jordan 44 fumble recovery (Kroening kick), 13:34
FRE — Virgil 14 run (Kroening kick), 9:54
FRE — James 2 run (Kroening kick), 4:10
FRE — FG Kroening 25, 11:45
FRE — Jordan 65 pass from Virgil (Kroening kick), 10:32
TSA — Hobbs 23 pass from Evans (R.Jones kick), 9:04
TSA — Lucas 40 pass from Evans (R.Jones kick), 6:54
TSA — Lucas 40 pass from Evans (R.Jones kick), 4:26
FRE — FG Kroening 25, 8:16
TSA — Atkinson 24 pass from Evans (R.Jones kick), 5:07
TSA — Flanders 2 run (R.Jones kick), 13:42
TSA — FG R.Jones 37, 8:25
FRE — Virgil 1 run (Van Valkenburg kick), 5:06
TSA — FG R.Jones 28, 1:13
TSA — Evans 18 run (R.Jones kick), :00
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Tulsa, Brewer 46-252, Flanders 13-101, Lucas 2-8, R.Taylor 1-0, Evans 6-(minus 17). Fresno St., James 21-65, Virgil 19-47, Jordan 0-44, O’Neal 4-21.
PASSING—Tulsa, Evans 22-32-1-273. Fresno St., Virgil 21-45-1-276.
RECEIVING—Tulsa, Atkinson 10-107, Lucas 6-103, Hobbs 5-64, Brewer 1-(minus 1). Fresno St., KeeS.Johnson 7-80, Jordan 6-108, Peck 6-68, Olsen 2-20.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Tulsa, R.Jones 42.