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Bulldogs Bite Vandals in Season Opener

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Fresno State wins 79-13

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Fresno State vs Houston Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Well, at least I was close in my prediction of Idaho’s score? I thought the Dogs would win this game pretty handily, but I don’t think any of us saw 79 points on the board coming. Fresno State exploded onto the scene in all 3 phases to wax the hapless Vandals and start the season off 1-0.

In front of about 30,000 fans in delightfully mild weather for September in Fresno, the direction of this game was set from pretty much the coin flip. Idaho got the ball first, and promptly went backwards 14 yards. Not exactly a sterling start for a steep underdog against a hungry defense eager to prove they can carry on from last year’s stellar unit. A punt followed, and the Bulldog offense took over at their own 45. The right side of the O-Line was shaky early, even giving up a rare sack and fumble, (although recovered by Fresno State). But, after getting the rust off, they started picking apart the Idaho defense. Mixture of accurate passes from Marcus McMaryion and strong running from Jordan Mims and Dejonte O’Neal got the Bulldogs in the end zone on their first drive, and they never looked back from there.

Idaho would punt again on their second drive, and Fresno State again took advantage by driving straight down the field to the endzone. Keesean Johnson logged his first reception of the night, giving him a catch in 27 straight games, extending his lead in the FBS. McMaryion to Johnson is beginning to look a lot like Carr to Adams from 2013, and we know how great those two were. After chugging their way down the field, Dejonte O’Neal broke off a 26yd run, and found the endzone to give the Bulldogs a 2 score lead. Redshirt freshman Asa Fuller would miss the PAT, but the Dogs were still up 13-0.

The third drive was where things truly began to implode for Idaho. After starting at the 25yd line, Jasad Haynes broke through the line, and forced a fumble from Mason Petrino, and was able to pounce on it himself. Bulldog ball, already in the red zone. Now, they didn’t turn this into a touchdown, but they did salvage a FG out of the turnover. 16-0 Dogs, and the turnovers were just beginning for Idaho.

The first real bright spot for Idaho came right after the FG, and Colton Richardson hit Jeff Cotton for a 73yd TD. Cotton managed to slip behind the cornerback, and rumbled all the way down the field to get the Vandals on the board. Kicker Cade Coffey though would miss the PAT, which would start a nightmare evening for Coffey. I hope they had something to cheer that guy up in the locker room, because his night went from bad to worse quickly after the missed PAT. 16-6 Dogs would be the closest the Vandals got for the rest of the game.

The second quarter started out good for Fresno State, and would be all Dogs all the way through. Josh Hokit got the offense started with some very good running, and Marcus was able to hit Keesean for a 28yd pass straight through the defense. A pass to Jared Rice, and all of a sudden the Bulldogs were inside the Idaho 15. Jordan Mims would give a powerful 12yd run, and the Dogs were back in the scoring column, stretching the lead back to 16. No more missed PATs from Fuller, who ended up going 10/11 on the night.

Now we can get to the rather exceptional special teams plays from the Bulldogs. After a few breakdowns allowed Idaho into FG range, Tank Kelly flew in off the edge and blocked the Vandal attempt. The ball flew straight into the hands of Jaron Bryant, and he tore down the sideline for a Fresno State score. It’s been close to a decade since the Bulldogs have had an elite special teams unit, but tonight could be the start of the next one. 30-6 Fresno

The next couple of drives went quietly for both teams, punt, punt, Asa Fuller missing a 50yd FG (it’s his first game, won’t hold it against him). Then the floodgates opened. Either Colton Richardson or his receiver made a terrible decision, and the pass went straight into the waiting arms of Tank Kelly, who had no trouble returning that INT for a touchdown. This was his 2nd INT of the night, on top of his blocked kick in the 2nd quarter. If Jaron Bryant hadn’t made history just a minute later, I would have given Kelly the MVP award. 37-6 Fresno

Getting one kick blocked and returned is rare enough. There’s a reason those plays end up being huge highlights, i.e. Grant Haley, Miracle on Techwood Drive, etc. But TWO? Two is just unheard of. I’ll need to do some digging to see how many times it’s happened in one game, let alone on half of football. The Dogs might have made football history tonight, they certainly made school history. Idaho set up for a FG attempt right before the end of the half, just to get some positive vibes into the locker room. Mykal Walker got the block off the edge this time, and can you guess who happened to be in the right spot to catch the blocked kick? Jaron Bryant again, and he was off to the races for a 2nd special teams TD. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 3TDs off blocked kicks and INTs in less than 7 minutes of football. Fresno State would enter the locker room up 44-6, and cruising to an easy win in the season opener.

After such a dominant first half, it’s crazy to think that this team would score another 5TDs in the second half, mostly using backups, but that happened. Marcus and the offense would buzz down the field including a brilliant 44yd reception by Keesean Johnson, before Jordan Mims would again burrow his way into the endzone for his 3rd touchdown of the night. Funnily enough, the only thing missing from tonight’s offensive output was a passing TD from McMaryion, but he was more than content to let his running backs get the scoring glory this evening. 51-6 Bulldogs

This last TD really spelled the end for the starters, and it was time for the backups and deep lineup players to get some game reps, and they had no trouble finding their groove. This was the first time that Bulldog fans would get to see Jorge Reyna in action after he redshirted last season, and he did not disappoint. Took his first play as a zone read for 7yds, then followed it up by hitting Derrion Grim in stride for a 33yd TD. This would be the only passing touchdown for the Bulldogs tonight, but they made it count. It was now 58-6 Fresno State, and the only question became if Idaho could ever stop this team.

Mason Petrino took over at QB for the Vandals in the 2nd half, and was actually able to engineer a good drive down the field. A mixture of short passes and good runs from Isaiah Saunders, and all of a sudden Idaho found itself in the endzone. Not sure if they remembered which one they were supposed to go to, but they got points on the board. Cade Coffey finally got some redemption, hitting this extra point to make it 58-13 in the 3rd quarter. This was truly the end of any offensive output for Idaho, since their next 4 drives to end the game were INT, INT, fumble, punt, game over. Truly not a night to remember for the Vandal offense, but I’ll talk more about the reasons for that later.

After yet another Idaho INT, this time to Wylan Free, sophomore Saevion Johnson took over at RB, giving Mims, Hokit, and O’Neal the rest of the night off. I’ve long been a champion of Saevion getting more playing time, and he certainly looked good in his time tonight. He took his first handoff from Reyna, and scooted straight into the endzone for his first collegiate touchdown. With Ronnie Rivers still recovering from injury, maybe there is a chance for Johnson or even Romello Harris to get a look in the running back stable.

Now, forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but the next Idaho drive would lead to yet another interception. This time, it was a pass that Kevin Jeanniton batted backwards, and Levell Tatum III was able to grab it before it hit the ground. By this time, Fresno State was deep into 3rd and 4th string defensive players, and they were still wreaking havoc on the Idaho QBs. This time, it would be Romello Harris taking over at RB, and he would break off a 27yd run of his own into the endzone, just sneaking inside of the pylon for the 5th rushing touchdown of the night. All of a sudden we’re looking at 72-13, and still 6 minutes left in the game. Not a whole lot the Bulldogs can do at this point. They’ve got all the way through the depth chart, and are still slicing through Idaho’s defense. But, the game wasn’t over, and Idaho would have one more mistake up their sleeves.

Asa Fuller got quite the workout tonight on both kickoffs and scoring duties. He was 12 on FGs, but an incredible 10/11 on PATs, not to mention his kickoff duties that kept Idaho pinned back almost every time. His last kick may have been his best. He launched a squib kick straight down the middle of the field, where it bounced off the thigh of a lineman for the Vandals. After a brief scrum, safety Deonte Perry emerged with the ball, and Idaho had its 7th turnover of the night. I’ve never seen something like this before, and if I didn’t witness it live, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was Saevion Johnson’s chance to salt away the game, and he managed one more TD behind Reyna, putting the final tally at 79-13 Fresno State.

This was the most points scored at Bulldog Stadium in 27 years, failing to surpass only the 94-17 game against New Mexico in 1991. This was the 2nd most points a Fresno State team had ever scored, and the most since the 69-28 thrashing of again New Mexico in 2013.

What we Learned:

Honestly, I have no idea how much can be gleaned from this game. It was against a clearly overmatched opponent that could not stop shooting themselves in the foot. While it certainly is encouraging to watch a Fresno State team be able to absolutely handle an FCS team like this, there are still a few areas of concern going forward. This game definitely felt though like what it must be like for an elite team when they play an FCS school. There is a massive disparity, so they can just pour it on, and score at will through the depth chart.

The problem areas tonight where some hiccups in the offensive execution, and the right side of the offensive line was consistently weak. Now, the right side does have two new starters there, but we’ll have to get those areas strengthened before we face Minnesota and UCLA. This offense is based around giving Marcus a clean pocket to operate in, so both sides need to be solid.

We also knew the kicking game would be a cause for concern, considering none of the kickers on the roster had D1 experience. Fuller did well on PATs, but his one made FG barely snuck in, and his one miss was a bad miss. He’ll need to get that control locked down before we’re faced with a situation where we need a FG.

This is for Idaho, but stop with the QB rotations. Yes, the coach’s son is one of the QBs, but outside of his one TD drive against backups, he looked awful. Colton Richardson could move the offense much better, and constantly switching ruined any chance at momentum you could have had. Pick a QB, and stick with him. I’ve ridden the QB carousel for three years here in Bulldog-land, and it sucks.

For Fresno State, the next stop in TCF Bank Stadium and a date with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers handily beat New Mexico State 48-10, but they are starting a true freshman at QB. This will be the first real test for the Bulldogs, but if they can perform like they did tonight, they should pass with flying colors. Idaho will return home to the Kibbie Dome to face D2 Western New Mexico, and look to bounce back for their first season back in the Big Sky conference.