Week 1 back under Jeff Tedford’s leadership, and overmatched FCS opponent, a stellar roster full of talent, and a Thursday night TV slot. All with high expectations of another double-digit win season. And what did we get at a very hot Valley Children’s Stadium? A lightning fast start, and a workman like game from there. We saw hints of the Fresno State offense that could be one of the best in the country, along with coaching decisions that didn’t want to show much on film for future opponents. We saw the emergence of Nikko Remigio as a bona-fide star, Jordan Mims scored two touchdowns, and Jake Haener kicked off his season completing 86% of his passes for 377 yards. Let’s take a look back at what happened.
A sweltering heat greeted the 36,000 strong fans Thursday night in the recently rebranded Valley Children’s Stadium, matched by the heat coming off the red-hot first quarter offense. Cal Poly took the ball first, and generated 4 yards before punting it back to Jake Haener and his side. Not even an offensive facemask penalty could slow down the offense, as they moved quickly down the field in a 10 play, 68 yard drive including the first electric play from Nikko Remigio on a 20yd pass play. After Remigio got the offense to the 4yd line, a roughing the passer penalty got the offense to the 2, which allowed Jordan Mims to dive through the line and punch in his first touchdown of the evening.
Cal Poly answered the TD drive with another 3 and out, this time making it 7 yards before punting the ball away, making the offense start from the 7yd line. Cal Poly’s punter was quite the weapon for them last night, and even lined up to play receiver for them. Michael Roth and Jadon Jones showed that the Mustangs have some pieces to play with, and could be really good with some development down the line.
Fresno began at their own 7 before embarking on a 9 play, 93yd drive to the endzone. The drive included Remigio’s first highlight-reel hurdle of the night, as he launched himself over a Cal Poly defender on the far sideline for extra yardage. He instantly proved tonight that Cal’s loss was our gain, as he became a multi-dimensional weapon for the offense. He’d prove it down in the red zone as he took a sweep play 13 yards for his first touchdown as a Bulldog, absolutely lighting up the crowds. It is worth mentioning that the drive did feature Jake’s first incompletion of the night after making his first 7.
It took Cal Poly 3 drives to get their first first down the night, when Shakobe Harper caught a pass for 20 yards to the Mustang 45. A rush play for negative yards and two incompletions would end that drive quickly, but Michael Roth would boom another punt, this time into the endzone to set the Dogs at their own 25.
3 drives, and 3 touchdowns to start the game off sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? 3 completed passes to Jalen Moreno-Cropper (he added the Moreno to honor his late grandfather), Erik Brooks, and Nikko Remigio, along with two rushes from Jordan Mims saw the Bulldogs go 75 yards in 6 plays for Mims’ second touchdown of the night. Despite how well the offense was moving, Haener was still without a passing touchdown on the night, but he’d handle that missing stat in the 2nd half.
After finding themselves in a 21-0 hole, the Mustangs would get themselves on the scoreboard. Two Fresno State penalties helped move Cal Poly down the field, but it was Jadon Jones’ ability to scramble and make plays that seemed to keep the defense a bit confused. Now, this could be down to first game jitters, them prepping for the far less mobile Schagers at QB, or over-pursuit issues, but it is something that will need to be fixed by the time Oregon State and USC line up to play. A missed protection left Bryson Allen open in the corner of the endzone, and the shutout was broken as the game moved to 21-7.
Despite the issues that may have been seen by the defense, they showed up incredibly strong at the goal line. They were helped out by some confusing playcalls by Beau Baldwin, but they stood tall on 3 seperate goal line trips, including Cal Poly’s next drive down to the Bulldog 8, as Jadon Jones’ 4th down pass fell to the turf. Before the half came to a close, the Dogs would threaten to add on again as they worked their way down to the Mustang 22, but Abe Montano’s field goal attempt sailed wide right. They’d go into the half not quite with the score everyone intended, but the game was firmly in Fresno State control.
The second half kicked off with back-to-back punts by both squads, but a short punt by Michael Roth allowed the Dogs to start out at the Poly 34 yard line after the Mustangs pulled in -8 yards on their first drive out of the half. Haener and Co would only need 3 plays to find the endzone, as a pass to Remigio, a rush by Mims, and then a 19 yard pass play to Mims had the Bulldogs back in the endzone, and got Haener his first passing touchdown of the season.
The Mustangs would try to answer back with a long drive of their own, but were again stymied in the red zone, this time failing at the Fresno State 5 yard line by more stout defense. The ability for the Dogs to hold tight at the goal line is certainly cause for encouragement, although letting teams get that far down the field might not be a sustainable plan going forward.
The final touchdown of the night followed Poly’s failed scoring drive, as the Bulldogs would grind out a 16 play, 95 yard drive that chewed up the rest of the third quarter, and a chunk of the 4th. They proved that they can slow things down if needed, and Mims continue to prove that he can be that bruising back to get the tough yards needed. Jake even pitched in with 4 rushing yards of his own, and Malik Sherrod spelled Mims for a 9 yard rush. Mims had a critical 11 yard rush on 4th and 1 to bring the ball down the Cal Poly 5, and Raymond Pauwels caught Jake’s second passing TD of the night.
If you thought that two redzone turnover on downs was good, why not go for one more? Cal Poly drove all of the way to the Bulldog 1 yard line, but stunningly refused to use Jones’ legs to get the score, instead trying 3 Shakobe Harper rushes that ended up losing a yard on 4th down, and another trip with 0 points for the Mustangs. The defensive ability to hold the offense out of the endzone on three separate occasions should be a cause for celebration, but hopefully the Bulldog defense can improve to keep other teams away from the goal line entirely.
The final Bulldog drive featured all backups, and 7 straight rushes from Malik Sherrod. He showed why he is 2nd on the depth chart behind Mims. He had two long runs of 27 and 24, but could also run between the tackles for tough yards. I think he’ll serve as a good second option as the year goes on as both a change-of-pace back and another tough back. They weren’t able to score on the final drive, but did punt the ball back to Poly with only a minute to go, and two quick rushes from them brought the clocks to triple zeros, and the Dogs moved into the win column at 1-0. Now the true test begins, as Oregon State comes to town next Saturday after thrashing Boise State 34-17.
Recapping the whole thing showed that the coaching staff really decided to play the game with the most vanilla of vanilla gameplan as possible. They tried out a bunch of different lineup combinations, seemingly knowing that they could just out-talent the Mustangs without much worry. I know that it wasn’t the blowout that fans probably wanted, but this game was never in doubt, and it showed that they can keep things as boring as possible and still dominate a game. I expect that we’ll see a lot more of the real offense next week as the Beavers come calling. The defense can certainly use some work, and Oregon State showed that they can be dangerous on the ground. If there’s one thing that can hopefully brighten the spirits of Bulldog fans, it’s that the first three drives showed how fast the offense can operate, and Oregon State had a rough middle of the game against Boise that Fresno could exploit.
That’s it for this week, see you all Saturday night for another toasty game in the Central Valley. For all your Mountain West news, keep it glued here.