My quick takes and rapid reaction from Fresno State’s 38-0 smothering of New Mexico on Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium.
Well, lookie lookie. Look who’s leading the Mountain West West Division. Yup. Incredibly, almost miraculously, it’s Fresno State.
Do not adjust your computer screens.
One year after not winning any conference games, the Bulldogs are suddenly in first place in their division following their surprisingly easy win over a New Mexico team that entered on a two-game win streak and was favored by 2 1/2 points at kickoff.
No matter what happens next Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium, Fresno State (4-2, 3-0) will exit with at least a share of the division lead. Why? Because No. 19 San Diego State (6-1, 2-1) lost 31-14 to Boise State.
Not even the most optimistic, hopeful of projections foretold that scenario.
“We will continue to grind,” coach Jeff Tedford assured in his postgame press conference. “We have a goal, and that goal is not finished yet. It’s nice to be undefeated in league, but we still have some tough teams that we have to prepare and play our best every single week. ...
“You can get confidence from this, but we’ll keep them pretty grounded because what gets it done is taking care of the details, taking care of the small things. Because once you do that the big things take care of themselves.”
With six games remaining, the Bulldogs are two wins shy of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. Yup. Believe it.
And 1-11 continues to fade away …
Part coach, part witch doctor
Bulldogs defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer must’ve been a witch doctor in a past life. There’s no other explanation for how this unit has gone from sorry to stout so quickly.
New Mexico, with its tricky spread triple-option, was supposed to be the stiffest test yet (in conference play, at least).
Instead, Fresno State completely muzzled the Lobos, keeping them off the scoreboard and holding them to 322 yards of total offense, including just 109 on the ground.
What’s been remarkable is how few big plays the Bulldogs have given up, as well as how rarely they’re caught out of position.
Credit Steinauer’s confusing, shifting scheme with its multiple fronts and coverage packages, as well as players that have completely bought in to the new system.
“Along with the scheme it’s our guys,” strong safety Juju Hughes said. “We’ve got some guys that really love football and really love each other. We like to mix it up out there and do a lot of different things. It’s hard to figure out what we’re going to do.”
Fresno State forced two turnovers, one caused by a jarring Tank Kelly hit, but dropped at least two easy picks. Just about the only thing Steinauer’s guys did wrong.
New Mexico must’ve thought it could match up one-on-one on the outside against the Bulldogs’ receivers. The Lobos stacked the box and dared Fresno State to throw deep.
Jamire Jordan and KeeSean Johnson kept getting behind the defense in single coverage, and Marcus McMaryion kept bombing away with completions of 75 and 70 yards in the first half.
McMaryion finished 13 of 23 for 299 yards and three touchdowns with Jordan (108 yards) and Johnson (105) both reaching triple digits in yardage.
And truth be told, the Bulldogs left two or three more deep completions on the field because of drops or McMaryion holding onto the ball too long.
Jordan’s 70-yard touchdown, which gave Fresno State a 7-0 lead, was a thing of beauty. Jordan got at least 10 yards behind the secondary and McMaryion hit him in perfect stride.
“The ball just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Jordan, who has had his fair share of drops. “I knew if I would’ve dropped that one I probably would’ve been out the rest of the game.”
Still not convinced
Tedford & Co. certainly have turned things around, and far ahead of schedule, but Bulldogs fans have yet to be convinced.
Yet to be convinced enough to buy tickets, at least.
Saturday’s official attendance of 28,090 reflects that. So do the rows and rows of empty seats at kickoff. (Except for the student section, which was packed.)
There’s still plenty of work to do to make a dent in the apathy. Fewer than 20,000 tickets have been sold for the next home game, Oct. 28 against UNLV.