Stop me if you’ve heard this one before- Fresno State loses a winnable game because of overly conservative playcalling and boneheaded mistakes in key situations. It wouldn’t be a Bulldog football season without it, and we’ve gotten the 2018 edition right in Week 2. Fresno State traveled to Minnesota looking to end a 9 year drought of OOC road games, and to help clear their path to the MWC title and a potential NY6 berth. The streak continues, the NY6 path is closed, and the margin for error the rest of the year becomes razor thin as the Dogs fall on the road 21-14.
It started out well for the Bulldog defense. They forced a punt by limiting Zach Annexstad’s options (did you know he’s a true freshman walkon?), and got the ball in decent territory to start their first possession. Couple of quick rushes, and a pass to Michiah Quick, and it looked like the Bulldogs were in business. Dejonte O’Neal rushed for 9 yards on 1st down, and then... the offense froze. Missed assignments, rushes right into defenders, and the Dogs had to punt.
Minnesota got the ball back, and began a long march down the field to the endzone. A 14 play drive would net 80 yards for the Gophers, and put them up 7-0. A mix of Annexstad and the wildcat running of Seth Green found pay dirt against a usually stout Fresno State defense, and the Dogs were looking at a deficit still in the 1st quarter. What Minnesota was good at doing tonight was chewing clock. Their first drive took more than 7 minutes off the clock, and made it so the Dogs got the ball back right before the 2nd quarter started.
The 2nd quarter was a slapfight of terrible offense and reviewed plays. Jeff Allison almost snagged a circus INT, but was deemed out of bounds after a long review. Minnesota would log one more FG before the half ended, but it wasn’t exactly a track meet for either team. Both defenses were definitely starring, and neither off could get of their own way.
After halftime, there was definitely some adjustments made to the Bulldog offense, but they needed a spark. They got that spark in the 3rd quarter with a Tyler Johnson fumble, and the Dogs got the ball deep in Minnesota territory. After drive after drive of anemic offense, it looked like the team was waking up. 3 plays with Josh Hokit, and one pass to Jared Rice, and all of a sudden the Bulldogs were in the endzone! Fresno is on the board, and the game is now 10-7. It almost looks like we could take this thing.
Minnesota would answer with another FG, putting them up by 6 this time, but there became a small sliver of hope for Fresno State that they had figured out their offense, and could take this game. That next drive would turn that sliver into something more, as it only took them 5 plays to move 75 yards down the field to find the endzone, and take a 14-13 lead on Keesean Johnson’s 45yd reception. After not having a lead at all for the first 80% of the game, all of a sudden Fresno State had a shot at taking this one.
That hope would quickly fade as Minnesota quickly had a miracle play from Zach Annexstad as he scrambled around the field on 3rd and 9 only to deliver an incredibly acrobatic catch to Tyler Johnson for 13yds, as the DBs completely fell asleep after the D-Line started chasing the QB around. This was then aided by a completely nebulous sideline interference penalty that they refused to show on TV that put Minnesota deep into Fresno State territory. Then it was Seth Green in the wildcat slowly chipping yards away until he found pay dirt on a 2yd rush. They would go for 2, and used Green to actually pass the ball to a wide open player in the back of the end zone. The defense fell hard for the fake, never expecting a pass from the wildcat QB. All of a sudden, the Dogs were back down 21-14.
Not to worry though, because it did look like Fresno State had FINALLY figured out their offense, and had more than enough time to drive down the field for the tie. After finally discovering that the forward pass was legal, they started picking up chunk yards down the field including a beautiful 25yd wheel route to Jordan Mims out of the backfield. Jorge Reyna even got a completion after Marcus McMaryion had to come out for a play after a roughing the passer penalty. The Dogs drove all the way down to the 4yd line, then disaster struck.
Getting all the way down to 1st and goal, with 2 minutes left, Fresno State decided to try a trick play. Not bleed the clock and try to push their way into the endzone. No shots into the endzone to try to connect with the star receivers. Nope, trick play time. Marcus McMaryion took the snap, handed it to Josh Hokit on a sweep, and he heaved up a pass intended for Jared Rice in the back of the end zone. 10 of the 11 players on Minnesota’s team fell for the fake, and Tedford and Co almost looked like geniuses. The 11th player though, was Antoine Winfield. Somehow he had sniffed it out, and jumped seemingly a dozen feet in the air to pluck the ball from Rice’s hands, and get his foot down. Minnesota ball, game over. The miracle finish would go to the other team, not the plucky Bulldogs.
Where We Go Now:
The Dogs will now travel back to California, to take on a beleaguered UCLA team that just finished getting blown out by Oklahoma. This will Fresno State’s last chance to break that OOC drought, since they’re heading down to the Rose Bowl. If Fresno State wants to win this one, they’re going to have to learn to trust their offense. They knew Minnesota had a weakness in the secondary, and just kept attacking on the ground into the heart of their defense. They got way too conservative today, and waited way too long to open up the playbook. Can’t do that if you want to be successful and be better than last year’s team. This was probably the best defense Fresno State will see all year, but they still had a strong chance to take this one, and let it slip away.
Hopefully this is the dumb loss the team needs to come together, and pin their ears back. Last year, it was the UNLV game. They learned they can’t get complacent and sleepwalk to a win. Maybe have this at the beginning of the year instead of in the middle will mean this is the blemish for the Dogs.
This loss will keep the Bulldogs from the NY6 game, unless absolute chaos happens. The Playoff system continues to be broken for G5 teams, where a 12-1 team can be relegated to a minor bowl just because they’re G5. The Dogs have no margin for error now if they want to play in a big game, that means beating UCLA and Toledo, and going through the MWC unscathed. A very tall order even if they had this win, but now they’re sitting at 1-1 instead of 2-0. And they have to hope that Minnesota wins a lot of games this year, instead of going 5-7 again.
Fresno State @ UCLA
September 15th, 7:30pm Pacific Time
Game broadcast on Fox Sports 1