The first four games didn’t tell us much about these Bulldogs.
Sure, we knew they weren’t world beaters. Fresno State took on the world and received three lopsided beatings. Before returning the favor to an overmatched FCS foe.
Not until Friday night did the Bulldogs line up against an opponent more or less their equal. They proved more than equal to the task.
Following Friday night’s 35-24 triumph over New Mexico, we know a lot more about this team than we did previously.
A few thoughts gleaned not from the press box at University Stadium, but from the couch:
• Brian Burrell is the starting quarterback.
Let there be no doubt. Even you boo birds out there.
Burrell played so well that the question has become moot. Brandon Connette supposedly was going to play in certain situations but never left the sideline (except to serve as holder). Nor did Fresno State miss him.
On this night, Burrell showed none of his earlier tentativeness. He looked confident and poised, putting zip on every throw and purpose behind every run. Just ask that defense back Burrell flattened with his shoulder pad.
New Mexico wanted to serve up big revenge on national television after the Bulldogs hung 69 points on them a year ago.
Instead, Burrell turned the evening into his coming out party. He’s the man going forward.
• There’s some intestinal fortitude.
Early in the game the Bulldogs were moving the ball but couldn’t finish off drives. LeKendrick Williams had a costly fumble (after the senior receiver deftly picked up the first down) and came up a half-yard short on two drives.
New Mexico, meanwhile, started to get the triple option humming and grabbed a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter. The Lobos had all the momentum, and Fresno State was teetering.
It was an early moment of truth. For all that our-goals-are-ahead-of-us stuff to have merit, the Bulldogs needed an answer.
Burrell provided it by directing an eight-play, 87-yard drive in the final minute of the first half to get the Bulldogs within three points. He then led a 12-play, 92-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter to retake the lead.
• Unsheath the weapons.
Marteze Waller had his best game of the season, rumbling through defenders for 163 yards, and Josh Quezada picked up key first downs and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a deft screen pass.
Josh Harper had his typical strong game. The revelation was Aaron Peck, who had several tough catches after being benched for some easy drops. The biggest was a 32-yarder on third-and-10 that set up Fresno State’s first touchdown.
Peck took a thump but held onto the ball while the safety who made the hit stayed down on the turf. At 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, he adds a physical dimension the other receivers lack. This was his best outing since last season.
• Defensive adjustments pay dividends.
The dive, a straight handoff to the upback, is the most basic play in the triple-option offense.
For most of the first half, the Bulldogs couldn’t stop it. And once they started looking for it, the Lobos beat them with pitches and surprise passes.
But somewhere along the line, the spigot got shut off. Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth made the defensive adjustments and the Lobos were no longer getting 7 or 8 yards on first down. Instead, they got 3 or 4. Big difference.
The defense made a huge stop after Burrell threw a deflected interception with the Bulldogs trailing 24-21 and 5:56 left in the third quarter.
The Lobos took over at the Fresno State 27 but never got a first down. Charles Washington, back at his customary strong safety, made the season’s biggest tackle to snuff a fourth-down run.
Some of this enthusiasm should be tempered. It was New Mexico, after all. Next week’s game against San Diego State, the second of four straight Friday night contests, will tell us a lot more.
Still, you can’t kick to the curb any come-from-behind road wins in conference play. Especially when you’ve gotten kicked yourself.