After a heartbreaking loss to those dang Trojans of USC, the Bulldogs must now return home to get back in the win column, and hope to get revenge over one of the only teams to defeat them last season. The Dogs were able to avenge their loss to Boise in the 2018 championship game, but they weren’t able to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers again in 2018, so 2019 it must be. This time, the Gophers are coming to Fresno, and the Red Wave will be ready and waiting for them in Bulldog Stadium. Let’s do a quick dive on the game, and see if the Dogs can get back on track for a big 2019 season, and avenge last season’s last minute loss.
It is hard to really glean too much from the first game of the year, but if I were a Minnesota fan, I’d be a bit worried. Even though South Dakota State is a very good FCS program, I’m sure the Gopher fans were expecting the standard FCS blowout to start the season and tune up the team before facing a tougher schedule. Instead, they got caught in an absolute rock-fight with the Jackrabbits, and a game that required a late touchdown to pull the victory out for the Gophers. Now they’re traveling far to the West to take on a Fresno State squad that won 12 games last season, and one that’s hungry to get a win over a P5 opponent at home, which would be their first since 2013.
On the opposite side, Fresno State showed a lot of heart against USC, but also a lot of mistakes that they’ll need to get cleaned up. Unlike the normal schedule of an FCS game to rune up against and get those mistakes out, the Bulldogs went on the road against a highly talented team with little margin for error. Unfortunately for the Dogs, even late game heroics from Jorge Reyna and Chris Coleman wasn’t enough to overcome a slow start and three turnovers. Now, they must clean up their game to get back on the plus side of the record before their first bye week. Ball security has to get better for the Dogs this time. There’s no way they can give the ball away three times again, and expect to come out with a win. A lot of that comes on Jorge Reyna making better decisions, and the O-Line giving him the time to make those decisions. It’s probably true that the Bulldogs won’t see a D-Line as talented as USC’s the rest of the season, but the offensive line needs to get Reyna time to make plays without needing to scramble and run. He took a ton of hits in Week 1, and kept fighting through the whole game. It’s a good option to have, but the passing game needs to improve for Reyna’s long-term health as well.
On the defensive side, sadly, Fresno State lost their nation leading streak of 25 games allowing 30 points or less. Now they have to start over again, after playing better down the stretch against the Trojans. Yes, they were playing against an unproven backup, but I’m still counting it as the defense getting more into their rhythm. Now they will face a strong rushing attack from Minnesota that pulverized them last year. Expect the Gophers to lean on Mohamed Ibrahim and Rodney Smith early and often to try to draw the defense up for the passing game. Minnesota’s rushing game didn’t find much traction against the Jackrabbits, so expect Bert Watts and his players to study that film to clog the lanes. Then it will all fall on Tanner Morgan trying to throw against Jaron Bryant and Juju Hughes. This may be the homer in me, but I’m thinking the defense gets back to their elite ways, and can successfully slow down Minnesota’s offense.
One of the best surprises from the first game for the Bulldogs was Cesar Silva, the new kicker from the College of San Mateo. He was brilliant in his kicking duties against USC, being perfect in his first D1 action. Hopefully the offense won’t sputter in the endzone, but it’s good to know that they’ve got a good kicker on the roster. Minnesota’s defense didn’t do a great job at getting into the backfield, but they did have a pick-six by Chris Williamson that ended up being a huge difference maker in the scoring margin. I also expect to see a lot more of Jared Rice this game, as he couldn’t get much going against USC’s defense. He was always an effective safety valve for Marcus McMaryion, and I’m sure he can become the same for Jorge Reyna along with Chris Coleman and true freshman Jalen Cropper. The local star made his presence felt by taking the first offensive play for a first down around the edge, and was able to get a spark going when needed. Now he gets to come home and perform in front of the hometown crowd, which is sure to help give a boost.
It’s weird to see that Minnesota is favored in this game, but I’m sure they just looked at record and P5 status. Last year’s game was fantastic, even though it didn’t go the Bulldogs’ way. I know that Fresno State is looking for revenge, and a strong showing for their home opener. As long as they can limit mistakes, and keep turnovers to a minimum, or preferably zero, I think the Bulldogs have a great chance of getting back in the win column, and excising the demons against the Golden Gophers. I don’t think it will be a blowout, but I think Fresno State can win this one without too much trouble. They’ll cover the spread, and get the win to help boost the Mountain West conference even higher up. The got 4 wins against the P5 in Week 1, and 4 more opportunities this week. The Bulldogs will get their win, and go into the bye week on a high note.