Two years ago, the Utah State Aggies and the Fresno State Bulldogs met in the Mountain West's inaugural championship game. The Aggies, down to their third-string quarterback, leaned on their typically stout defense to keep Derek Carr and the rest of Fresno's high-flying offense mostly in check, though the Bulldogs eventually claimed the conference crown.
Last year, injuries again forced the Utah State Aggies to use three different quarterbacks, though the team transitioned well enough from one to the next to finish with a 10-win season. Fresno State took roughly four weeks to make a decision about their starting quarterback and the offense took a step back as a result. The defense, whose flaws had been covered by that offensive prowess, regressed even more en route to a disappointing 6-8 campaign.
Last night, Utah State illustrated just how wide the gap is between quiet, consistent excellence and complete disarray.
Fresno State has now gone through four starting quarterbacks in just six games, a consequence of both injury and indecision. The offense was DOA in San Diego last Saturday night, the blame for which appears to have landed at the feet of Zack Greenlee, who was benched in favor of Kilton Anderson for the homecoming tilt against USU. If Anderson's post-game interview is to be believed, it looked to all the world like grasping at straws to no avail.
The Aggies took what had been a close game after one quarter and turned it into another laugher by halftime, routing the Bulldogs 56-14. Kent Myers had, by far, his best game as a starter for Utah State, finishing 18-25-260-1-0, though this is not much of a surprise given that the 'Dogs now rank 117th in opponent's QB rating. Anderson struggled to a line of 10-20-112-1-3 in his first start of the year, throwing an interception on his first pass (although, hey, it was down the field for once) and displaying the kind of erratic play one has come to expect from every freshman signal-caller around here.
Part of the reason that Greenlee lost his job (again) is that, according to head coach Tim DeRuyter, he often stumbled right into pressure a week ago, but Utah State must have been elated to break in a new QB. The Aggies defense racked up ten tackles for loss and five sacks, including one by star linebacker Nick Vigil (who also led the team with nine tackles) and two by strong safety Marwin Evans, the latter being the kind of performance Bulldogs fans might have expected from their own supposedly aggressive defense.
The Aggies also managed to keep Marteze Waller in check, as he could only muster 70 yards and a garbage time touchdown on 26 carries. It must have been satisfying for Utah State fans to watch Waller salt the game away in the fourth quarter, when the game was already well out of reach, and equally frustrating to the home crowd. On the other hand, Utah State ground out 201 yards on the ground as a team and scored seven rushing touchdowns.
Fresno's time of possession battle (31:41 to 28:19, in favor of USU) wasn't nearly as lopsided as in past weeks, but while the Fresno defense again showed some fight, they were again betrayed both by short fields -- USU had two scoring drives that started within the Bulldogs' 10-yard line -- and big plays: The average play for a USU first down or touchdown went for roughly 20 yards.
I still don't think the problem with all of this is talent. Jamire Jordan, for instance, continued his excellent freshman campaign by leading Fresno with five catches for 44 yards and a score. Well-regarded freshman linebacker Nela Otukolo registered his first career sack, while James Bailey led all Bulldogs with 5.5 tackles. Some of it may be the youth movement which is already underway, but the lack of progress is becoming more and more distressing.
They looked outmatched, for instance, by Hunter Sharp in the defensive backfield as he set a season-high with 99 yards on six catches. They got outplayed on special teams, where Devin Centers's second-quarter blocked punt eventually gave the Aggies a two-score lead they would never relinquish. They looked out-coached on the ground, where missed tackles and bad angles were primarily responsible for Devonte Mays's big day (9 carries, 92 yards, 3 TDs).
Most worryingly of all, they looked discouraged. They weren't the only ones, though. I mean, take a look at this photo from our trove:
The empty stands. The disappointment. The complete apathy. Take a look at the depth of feeling in these tweets:
It's 7:32. Kickoff is seven minutes away. pic.twitter.com/pwdeyIpc1N— Anthony Galaviz (@agalaviz_TheBee) October 11, 2015
Bulldogs fans starting to leave angry messages on my voicemail. Guess some folks don't do Twitter.— Marek Warszawski (@MarekTheBee) October 11, 2015
The 42-point loss to Utah State is the worst at Bulldog Stadium since 2011 when No. 5 Boise State routed the Bulldogs 57-7.— Anthony Galaviz (@agalaviz_TheBee) October 11, 2015
This is an embarrassment! Previous teams have worked their asses off to put us on the national map.... Embarrassing— Bulldog Bounce (@BulldogBornBred) October 11, 2015
But, hey, at least the program still has a perfectly good blimp to fly over the mostly empty stadium going forward! If only they'd known gimmicky marketing means jack when the product doesn't resemble a competitive team. They may not give DeRuyter the Dan McCarney treatment any time soon because of his salary but, given that they've lost their last seven games against FBS competition by an average of nearly four freaking touchdowns, he may already be coaching to save his job at season's end when the Bulldogs (1-5) host UNLV next Friday night.