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Bulldogs finally give up touchdown, win comfortably anyway

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Fresno State cruises in New Mexico 38-7

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

We all knew the streak would end eventually, but the Fresno State defense did go almost 10 quarters of conference play without surrendering a touchdown. New Mexico’s offense finally broke through in the 2nd quarter with a 14yd TD reception, but that would be pretty it for their offensive output as Fresno State crushed the Lobos again, 38-7. New Mexico did get closer than last year, when they were shut out by the Bulldog defense, but they still had no answer for Marcus McMaryion and company. The Dogs played solidly in almost all phases, with the exception being a missed FG from Asa Fuller, and have now moved into 1st place in scoring defense nationwide with another dominating defensive performance.

Things actually started out chippy early, as the two teams had to be separated during warm-ups as words were exchanged by both sides. That would carry over into the game, as there was 9 personal foul penalties through the game, 8 of them coming from New Mexico. Undisciplined play by the Lobos would really aid the Bulldogs, as it helped them start drives in better position, and extend drives that would find the end zone. In front of about 18,000 fans, the New Mexico team could not get out of their own way at all yesterday, and looked completely overmatched by Fresno State all day.

Fresno State won the coin toss, and elected to defer to the 2nd half. That makes the 4th straight game the Dogs have won the opening coin toss. Meaningless stat, but it’s fun. The defense came to play early on, and were aided by a New Mexico pass interference call to force a punt on the opening drive. Fresno State though would be bitten by the #CollegeKicker bug, as Asa Fuller pushed his 42yd FG to the right, leaving the score knotted up at 0. The defense would shut NM down on the next drive, surrendering 5yds and forcing another punt. This time though, the Bulldogs would find paydirt in the kicking game. Asa Fuller would drill a 30yd FG this time, and the Dogs would move in front 3-0.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the next New Mexico drive would end in a punt. This time, the defense only gave up 4 yards this time, despite QB Sherion Jones trying his best to get the offense moving. This punt though would set Fresno State up in plus territory, and it was time for Keesean Johnson to shine. He has extended his consecutive game streak to 43 games with a reception now, and caught two passes from Marcus to move the Dogs straight down to the red zone, and Ronnie Rivers scooted 16yds through the New Mexico defense to find the endzone. Dogs up 10-0.

New Mexico finally found some offense as Sherion Jones started to use his legs, and Fresno State’s defense continues to have issues with mobile QBs. When your defense focuses that much on pressure and blitzes, sometimes you’ll over-pursue and lose some yards to a mobile QB. But they got a lot of those yards back as Jones threw the ball in the air after sliding, and got pushed back 15yds. The next play would be an interception to Mike Bell, continuing the Bulldog streak of forcing turnovers. That’s 13INTs on the season, 18 turnovers total. You have to turn interceptions into points, and Marcus McMaryion and Josh Hokit would deliver with their legs, and Ronnie Rivers got his 2nd rushing TD of the game as he found the corner on a 1yd run to put Fresno State up 17-0.

New Mexico would finally find some success on the next drive, as they answered with a TD of their own, aided by a Fresno State holding penalty on Jeff Allison. Jones would find Elijiah Lilly for a 16yd TD throw, and New Mexico was on the board. This was the first TD that Fresno State has surrendered in conference play, and meant that New Mexico wouldn’t get shut out two years in a row. Score now 17-7.

I’m sure the Lobos expected Fresno State to just go into the locker room, but the Bulldog offense had other ideas on this drive. Aided by 2 personal fouls on New Mexico after a Ronnie Rivers run, Marcus hit Keesean Johnson in stride for a beautiful 34yd touchdown pass with 36 seconds left in the half. That was definitely a gut punch for the Lobos, as they knew Fresno State would be getting the ball back after the half as well. Any chance they had of pulling the upset was quickly evaporating as they were stymied on both sides of the ball against an incredibly efficient Fresno State team. Bulldogs in front 24-7.

The Dogs would waste no time after the half, driving 75 yards down the field using both the rush and the pass, eventually finding Keesean again for his 2nd receiving touchdown of the day in the red zone, pushing the Dogs ahead even more 31-7. It’s hard to overstate how important getting Ronnie Rivers back has been for this offense, as he’s able to run the ball with speed and elusiveness, and catch the ball out of the backfield to add another weapon on the outside. Looking back, there’s no way Fresno State loses to Minnesota if Rivers was healthy for that game, but getting him back has really helped find another gear for this offense going forward. Also means Jordan Mims and Josh Hokit can get some more rest in a game, which was deployed this time with a perfectly fresh Mims coming in during the 3rd quarter when New Mexico’s defense was worn out. Fresno State leads 31-7.

The next Fresno State drive would put the final nail in the coffin, and give Jordan Mims his first carries of the game. He picked up 14yds on two carries, then it was Keesean moving the ball down the field aided by another two personal foul penalties on New Mexico. Ronnie Rivers found his way into the endzone again, but this time as a receiver. The throwback screen has been lethal in recent weeks for Marcus and Ronnie, and worked again as Ronnie only needed one edge block to get 23yds into the endzone for the 3rd time on the day. Fresno State went up 38-7, and was able to hit cruise control for the rest of the day.

The rest of the game was just burning time at this point, as the result was already decided. Slightly worrying moment as Jeff Allison appeared to tweak his shoulder on a tackle, but Jeff Tedford said after the game that he was okay. Maybe keeping the starters in that deep in a decided game isn’t the best idea, but he’s the coach and I’m just a fan. Just don’t want to risk injuries with the stretch run coming in the next month. Tank Kelly was wearing a knee brace, and Kevin Atkins didn’t appear in the whole game. We’re just at that point in the season where guys are starting to get dinged up, and this was a decent game to rest some of those guys. Especially with the new redshirt rules, it gave guys like Patrick Belony, Aaron Mosby, and Isiah Johnson chances to log some meaningful minutes, which will be more important as we go forward.

Hey, New Mexico got closer than last year! Last year’s game was 38-0, this was 38-7. At that pace, it’ll only take....5 more games of getting closer before New Mexico has a chance! All kidding aside, it was good to see the defense shut down the very potent Lobo offense, and especially Sherion Jones. He’s a good QB, and will be very dangerous for every team he faces going forward.

What Happens Next:

Fresno State is now bowl eligible! They move to 6-1, 3-0 in the conference. Next week, they’ll return home to face a wilting Hawaii team(6-3, 3-1 MWC) on ESPN2.

New Mexico(3-4, 1-2 MWC) travel to visit the other conference frontrunner in Utah State (6-1, 3-0 MWC) in a vital Mountain Division showdown for both teams. The path to bowl eligibility for New Mexico narrows with each game, and Utah State needs to stay undefeated with a looming date against Boise State the last week of the season, and a potential NY6 berth in the balance.