Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first; the final score really does not show how dominating this win was for Fresno State. The Bulldogs were up 49-13 until about 5 minutes left in the game, when Toledo added two garbage time TDs to make it look somewhat close. Also kept the Dogs from doubling up Toledo’s yardage, and from getting more votes in the polls.
After coming off the bye week and the UCLA win, expectations were high for Fresno State returning home, and the fans luckily came out to support the team. An announced audience of around 33,000 filled Bulldog Stadium on a beautiful night for college football, and looked good for the cameras on ESPNU. Those fans definitely left with a great game, and another win to move Fresno State to 3-1 on the season to close out OOC play.
The Bulldog defense came out with their hair on fire, and shut Toledo down on their 1st possession, and set the stage for heavy hitting all night. The defense definitely came to play, and pretty much put on a clinic in form tackling tonight against a usually explosive Toledo offense. They got pressure from all sides, got 5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss during the game, not to mention a pick 6 for Mykal Walker in the 3rd quarter.
After a long punt from Toledo, the Bulldog offense got on the field, and what a drive it was. Coming into this game, I think we all expected the coaches to attack Toledo on the ground, but even averaging 5yds/carry, it was the passing game that destroyed the Rocket defense. Where we saw a few more wrinkles than usual was with the passing game to the RB corps, working them out of the backfield when the LBs inched forwards to the line. Jordan Mims became the leading receiver tonight, and the leading rusher. He had himself a career game with almost 200 combined yds on offense and 2TDs. Marcus and the offense marched their way down the field in 12 plays, and found the endzone on a 4yd Jordan Mims rush to put the Bulldogs up 7-0. Bulldog Stadium was rocking, and it looked like a continuation of the UCLA game.
Not ones to go down without a fight, Toledo’s offense responded with a TD of their own, relying on their passing game to star receiver Cody Thompson to knot the game back up at 7 points. There was an almost interception thrown by Guadagni that clanged off of Tank Kelly’s hands, which I know is a pass he wants back. This definitely isn’t the first time it’s happened, I’m sure Tank would rather have those few INTs instead of just pass break-ups.
Toledo would take their next drive down the field again, but the Fresno State defense was able to force just a FG, but Toledo was up 10-7 now to begin the 2nd quarter, but there definitely wasn’t any sense of panic from the Fresno State sideline. They seemed to know that this team was ready for the Rockets, and would settle into their groove and get the lead back. The 2018 Bulldogs are definitely playing with a sense of confidence that we haven’t seen in Fresno probably since Derek Carr and Davante Adams were here, and that’s all because of Jeff Tedford’s leadership and the staff’s ability to build this team up from almost nothing two years ago.
Disaster would strike the Fresno State offense on the next drive, as Marcus got his arm hit while trying to pass, and it went straight into the arms of a Toledo defender. So the Rockets took over in Bulldog territory already. The right side of the O-Line continues to be a slight weak link for this offense, but that does have the least amount of experience, but coach Ryan Grubb has a lot of faith in these guys to grow and mature through conference play, and not let any free defenders come through to get to Marcus.
Toledo would turn the interception into points, but luckily again it was just a FG. The defense clamped down in the redzone, and only gave up 12yds off the turnover, and forced the Rockets to kick. The score was now 13-7, but that was pretty much the end of the Toledo offensive output until garbage time.
On the next drive though, we saw the full potential of the Fresno State offense, and they used the middle of the field to just pick the Toledo defense apart. Using the 1st down rushes forced the defense to sneak up towards the line, opening up the middle for Marcus to just throw it right over their heads almost at will. They were able to slip Jordan Mims out of the backfield on a beautifully executed arrow route that put him right in that open middle of the field, and he scampered down the field for 55yds to put the Bulldog offense inside the 10yd line, and was one ankle tackle away from getting all the way into the checkered endzone. A 7yd pass to Keesean Johnson on a great screen, and the Dogs were back in front 14-13. Asa Fuller also seems to have gotten his PAT issues worked out, as he was perfect on the day today, and has been perfect since halftime at UCLA. He did miss his one FG attempt today, but that was a weird play where the team tried to rush out a kick right before the half, and I don’t think any kicker would have made that one.
The rushing game finally did get going here in the second quarter, as Josh Hokit got on the board with two straight rushes gaining 31 yards, and then Jamire Jordan got 36 on a wonderfully executed fly sweep that put his breakaway speed on full display, and he almost scored himself. He got tackled out of bounds at the 2, and Marcus was able to find Kyle Riddering in the back of the endzone on a slip screen to drive the Dogs forward 21-13. Riddering has caught 3 passes so far this year, and 2 of them are TDs. Definitely the kind of stats any TE would want, brought in when they need height in the back of the endzone.
Now is when the Bulldog defense began to show why they’re a top 15 unit in the country, and completely clamped down on the Toledo offense. Just one week after dropping 63 points on Nevada, and almost 500yds, they had barely cracked 120 against a very strong Fresno State defense. They forced another Toledo punt, and it seemed like the momentum had completely swung into the Bulldogs’ favor. After taking over already in Toledo territory, it would take only one play to get Fresno State into the endzone. A massive blown assignment from the Toledo offense left Jordan Mims completely open in the flat, and he put on the afterburners, and sprinted 47yds down the sideline to stretch the lead to 28-13 on a single play. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the offense run this efficiently, but this definitely looks like the offense we expected coming into the season.
After taking the ball back out to the 19 on an 18yd kick return, Toledo QB Mitchell Guardagni took a hard sack from Mykal Walker, and definitely looked wobbly on his feet. He tried to stay in the game, but the refs took a look at him, and walked him to the sideline to go into concussion checks. Backup QB Eli Peters would come in for the rest of the game, but it was readily apparent that the Toledo offense had ground to a halt against an elite Bulldog defense. Fresno State got the ball back with 53 seconds left, and ended up missing a FG trying to rush it with 10 seconds left. Definitely not the play I would have run, but I can understand trying to get a few more points on the board before the half to drive the dagger in. They did go into the half up 28-13, and looked like they would have the game readily in hand.
The second half started for Fresno State a lot like the first half ended. Marcus was able to just dissect the middle of the field, hitting Keesean Johnson for 39yds straight down the center of the field, then Jordan Mims for another 13 to get the Dogs down into the redzone quickly. An absolutely beautiful back corner pass to Keesean brought the score up to 35-13, and he fought off some bad defensive pass interference to make a highlight reel catch.
Now is when things got really fun for Fresno State. Knowing that the backup QB was in for the rest of the game, the defense pinned their ears back, and started throwing pressure and blitzes at the Toledo offense on every play. Mykal Walker had the play of the game here, as he was able to bat a pass up in the air, and take it himself for 38yds and a pick 6. The Asuza transfer has been a revelation for this defense, and has shown an ability to control the edge and use his speed to do almost everything on the field.
That pick six was truly the death knell for Toledo, as even on their next drive, they decided to try for a 4th down conversion even though they were in field goal range. Instead of taking easy points, they went for it, and Peters was sacked by Jasad Haynes for a 9yd loss and a turnover on downs. The Bulldogs would then use the ground game to march their way back down the field using Josh Hokit and the finally healed Ronnie Rivers to get to the 6 of Toledo, and Marcus got his 5th total TD of the night by dashing for a 6yd TD around the edge. He now has 12 total TDs on the season, 7 through the air and 5 on the ground. Definitely showing his versatility in the offense by adding in that extra ability with his legs that’s been lacking in Fresno for a long time. He also passed 1,000yds passing on the season through only 4 games, which took him 7 games last season. Being the Day 1 starter, and his added comfort in the offense have really paid dividends for this team. He’s also still sitting around 73% completions, and a nice 9yds/att. Solid stats all around for the senior QB from Dinuba.
That last Bulldog TD was pretty much the end of the game, even though Toledo would put up 2 TDs in garbage time. That was against backups all over the field for Fresno State, and was more to give Eli Peters more reps in case he needs to start their game next week. All that it really did was make the game look much closer than it actually was. For reference, before those last two TDs, Toledo had less than 200yds of total offense. They stood at 199 until 5 minutes were left in the game, and they ended up almost doubling their offensive output in their two final drives. The only problem with this is that for most people, they’ll only look at the final score and not see how dominating of a performance this was for the entire Fresno State team. They were firing on all cylinders, and really shut down an incredibly explosive Toledo team.
What Happens Next:
Fresno State (3-1) travels to Reno to start conference play against Nevada (3-2, 1-0). Now, this is a Nevada team that gave up 63 points to Toledo, and has a defense that’s best considered theoretical. I’d expect a similar performance next week for the Bulldogs to open conference play. Game will again be broadcast on ESPNU at 7:30PM on October 6th.
Toledo (2-2) returns home to also begin conference play against Bowling Green (1-4, 0-1). It looks like both the Rockets and Bulldogs will start conference games with a win, but college football is always a wacky sport.