Plagued with missed tackles, missed assignments, missed opportunities and two turnovers that contributed to a 21-0 halftime lead for Boise State, a team that clearly looked improved since the teams first met back on October 17. They were more physical and more in tune with each other, executing key plays to precision, but much like the theme of Fresno State's season, a game that began miserably in the first half was followed by resilience and hope, but in the end it wasn't enough for the Bulldogs to end up on top.
Jay Ajayi dragged the pile yard after yard after yard after yard after initial contact. Grant Hedrick caught the Bulldog defense off guard with his elusive speed. On the defensive side of the ball Tanner Vallejo seemed to be in on every play, hitting every angle perfectly and never letting a tackle slip his grasp as he snuffed out the run.
The Bulldogs were still able to move the ball at times in the first half. They were just never able to capitalize. On a 52-yard pass play where Josh Harper was somehow left open in the middle of the field, Brian Burrell found him in was looked like a play headed for six. Harper seems to hesitate his move which allowed the Boise State defenders to close and what looked to be a huge play ended in a block field goal.
The two first half interceptions, one being a pick six along with the inability to score when in the red zone was what really hurt Fresno State in the first half. Had those three situations gone differently, Fresno State may have had a close game going into the locker room at half time. Despite the spoiled opportunities though, these Bulldogs, unlike teams in the past refused to go away quietly.
It looked like Fresno State's long night would continue when Boise State took the ball 86-yards on seven plays on their first drive of the second half capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by Hedrick on 3rd and 4. Da'Mari Scott continued the Bulldog woes when he bobbled the ensuing kickoff, forcing Fresno State to start their first drive of the second half from their own 4 and then the Bulldogs woke up in an impressive way.
Boise State's defensive line mauled Fresno State's offense for much of the first half, blowing up on run play after the next and during the second half much of the same continued. For as good as Fresno State's offensive line has looked at times this season opening hole after hole for Marteze Waller, tonight they had no answer for Boise State's front seven.
The one thing that kept the game interesting was the Bulldogs' proficiency on third down. During a 96-yard, 19 play drive, the Bulldogs converted on...FIVE...third downs and my heart was pounding on each and every one of them. Despite the two costly first half interceptions, Burrell showed incredible poise on several third and longs making big throw after big throw to keep the drive alive.
3rd and 7, 14-yard completion to Greg Watson.
3rd and 7, Burrell runs for 8 yards.
3rd and 5, 8-yard completion to Josh Harper.
3rd and 9, 15-yard completion to Aaron Peck.
3rd and 3, 7-yard completion to Watson.
Burrell rushed for another 9-yards on 2nd and 7, completed a 9-yard pass to Watson on 1st and 10 and after a Boise State pass interference penalty, Quezada scored on a 1st and Goal from the two. Suddenly, Fresno State was imposing their will on Boise.
Then with 3:09 to go in the third quarter, Craig Thompson thought it would be a good time to conduct an interview on the Boise State sideline praising the Broncos and all but guaranteeing their birth to the Fiesta Bowl. Part of me harkened back to Pat Hill ensuring that the Bulldogs would not run up the score on the Broncos during a pre-game interview in 2001. Could this be the reverse jinx Fresno State has been hoping for all these years?
The very next play, Tyeler Davison sacked Hedrick for a loss of 4-yards. The next play on 3rd and 12, Hedrick threw an incompletely pass that all but landed in Curtis Riley's hands and would have given the Bulldogs the ball deep in Boise territory. Instead the ball hit the ground, or not, there was not a review. Hm.
The Bulldogs followed that with another 3 and out and again this game began to feel like the season at large. Despair. Hope. Despair...
The Broncos followed that with a 3 and out on a series of plays where Ejiro Ederaine (two bad shoulders needing surgery in the offseason, lead the team with 8 tackles and 4 TFL) seemed to take it upon himself that Ajayi (13 carries, 70 yards in the first half; 9 carries for 0 yards in the second half) would not gain anymore yards and again we had some hope.
The Fresno State offense put together an 11-play drive that was highlighted by 9-yard pass completion to Josh Harper on a 3rd and 7, an 11-yard run by Burrell on a 3rd and 18, followed by a 10-yard completion to Josh Harper on 4th and 7. After moving the ball to the Boise State 23, the Bulldog's luck ran out on third and fourth down and the ball returned to Boise after a desperation heave thrown up for grabs in the end zone fell incomplete. However, the Bulldogs forced another 3 and out and Boise was forced to punt for the third consecutive drive of the second half.
This time, starting from Boise State's 49-yard line, Burrell led the Bulldogs on an efficient 7-play drive highlighted by a beautiful pass from Burrell to Watson to score from 25-yards out taking only 1:42 off the clock. Hope.
On the kickoff, the Fresno State kicking team lined up in their normal formation and surprised Boise State with an onside kick executed to perfection. The ball went high in the air and Jamal Ellis did a phenomenal job taking out two Boise State players to knock the ball loose and Charles Washington was there to recover for the Bulldogs. HOPE!
Taking over at the Boise State 41-yard line, the Bulldogs looked primed for a quick score. Four plays later, Burrell threw what looked to be a very catchable ball to Peck at the Boise State 8-yard line on a 4th and 12, but the ball sailed through Peck's out stretched arms, incomplete. The ever relentless Fresno State defense forced another 3 and out for Boise State, getting the Bulldogs the ball back with 2:42 seconds to go in the game.
Fresno State moved the ball another 43-yards, but before they could find the end zone, Burrell was intercepted for the third time and the game was sealed. Burrell made a great hustle play to save the pick six and Fresno lost with by a respectable 14 points, considering they were 22 point underdogs by kickoff. Unfortunately for those who may have been counting their money on Boise State, didn't realize that this Bulldog team, though at times, clearly outmatched, did not give up, give in or go down easily, much like their season.