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Fresno State Survives a Scare in San Diego

The Bulldogs got everything they could handle from the upset-minded Aztecs, but Derek Carr and company did just enough to eke out an overtime win.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Fresno State wrote another chapter in their charmed 2013 season, a tense, back-and-forth battle at Qualcomm Stadium last night in which the Bulldogs escaped with a 35-28 overtime win over San Diego State.

Isaiah Burse opened the scoring with a 10-yard run out of a Wildcat formation, a surprising development in that the Bulldogs seemed not to trust its running game all evening.  Derek Carr threw the ball 57 times, while Marteze Waller and Josh Quezada combined for just 12 carries.  It was apparent that the Bulldogs intended to exploit the San Diego secondary from their first drive, but the senior quarterback struggled to connect with his receivers down the field and the team's drives continually stalled.

San Diego's varied defensive looks gave the offensive line fits, as well, because the Aztecs continually shifted between bringing five or six defenders on a blitz and dropping eight into coverage.  The resulting confusion along the offensive line was obvious and the unit had perhaps its worst game of the season, allowing sacks to Nick Tenhaeff and Josh Gavert and many more knockdowns and hurries.

Adam Muema answered with a 10-yard score of his own in the second quarter and added a one-yard plunge in the third.  The junior running back led the Aztecs with 111 yards on 27 carries and consistently earned tough yards after contact.  Donnel Pumphrey was less of a factor, finishing with just 37 yards on the ground.  However, the persistence of the San Diego running game and their success on third down (10 of 21) allowed San Diego to keep the 'Dogs offense off the field.

Quinn Kaehler finished 21-of-39 for 337 yards, with one interception, but the box score belies the fact that he played well despite facing constant pressure of his own from the Fresno front seven.  Ejiro Ediraine collected two more sacks for the Bulldogs, but Kaehler made several big third down plays to keep the Aztecs in the game.

Fresno eventually found some offensive traction late in the third quarter, as Carr connected with Davante Adams for two scores to take a 21-14 lead. Adams, with 26 career touchdown receptions, is now the school's all-time leader. In addition, his ten-catch effort was the seventh of his career, another school record. Ejiro Ediraine then returned a Ezell Ruffin fumble for a touchdown and a 28-14 advantage, but not without some confusion.

Ruffin, it should be noted, had an excellent game by hauling in 10 catches for 181 yards.  The Bulldogs had a difficult time containing him while sending pressure at Kaehler and weren't helped by the loss of L.J. Jones, who suffered a knee injury defending the run in the second half.

The Aztecs answered Fresno's charge with a lengthy return on a questionable squib kick and a touchdown, followed by a flawless onside kick and a dive by fullback Chad Young for a 27-yard score to tie the game.

The game may have been decided, though, on Rocky Long's fourth down decisions.  Seamus McMorrow pushed a 40-yard field goal wide right in the first quarter, and subsequent decisions can either be construed as a sound willingness to gamble in Fresno territory or as mistrust of the sophomore kicker.  Regardless, Colin Lockett dropped an easy conversion in the second quarter, while Ruffin's fourth quarter fumble was another critical fourth-down mistake.

When the Aztecs had to turn back to McMorrow for the game-winning attempt, tight end Marcel Jensen saved the undefeated season by blocking the 37-yard field goal. This sent the game to overtime, where Waller found paydirt and gave the 'Dogs the lead. Derron Smith, who had been banged up late in the fourth quarter, defended Kaehler's fourth-down pass and sealed the win for Fresno.

Next week, Fresno heads home to play host to the Nevada WoIf Pack, while San Diego State continues its homestand against New Mexico.