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Dogs Dispatch Devils in Desert

Historic night on defense, but questions remain on offense

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

There’s football games where the final score doesn’t tell the full story of what happened in the game. Sometimes, a game is a lot closer than it initially appears just looking at the final score, usually aided some late-game wackiness. Then there’s games like Fresno State’s demolition of Arizona State Saturday night. The Bulldogs forced 8 turnovers, plus another turnover on downs at the 1 to completely stymie the Sun Devils. Carlton Johnson had the absolute game of his career, logging 3 interceptions and 3 tackles, with Cam Lockridge and Alzillion Hamilton also pitching in interceptions of their own. 3 more fumbles from ASU, recovered by 3 different Bulldogs created a historic results, but still many question marks for Fresno. 7 of those 8 turnovers resulted in scoring opportunities, but none of them were converted into touchdowns. Dylan Lynch put 5 field goals through on 7 attempts on the night, but the redzone offense just could not convert consistently.

If there was one bright spot for the Sun Devils on Saturday, it was that their defense really did play well and kept Fresno State out of the endzone. They sent well-timed blitzes to slow Fresno’s progress and kept Mikey Keene from truly settling in the pocket. After allowing the Bulldogs to march down the field on their opening drive as Keene completed his first 14 attempts, the ASU defense had 5 sacks that led to most of those field goal attempts. It seemed like the Fresno State offense operated brilliantly when they worked ahead of the chains, but outside of the first touchdown on a 3rd and 10 to Jalen Moss and a 4th and 2 pass to Erik Brooks, the offense struggled on 3rd down. This was also normally when ASU sent the house at Keene, but Pat McCann and Jeff Tedford need to find ways to keep the offense moving.

The Dogs came roaring out of the gates in this game, engineering an 8 play, 75yd drive for a touchdown pass from Mikey to Jalen Moss. Not even ASU’s first sack of the night was able to slow down the drive, as the next two completions found Moss for 9 and then 10 yards as he carved through the Sun Devil defense to paydirt. Arizona State’s first drive really did set the tone for the evening, as it lasted a grand total of 3 plays before Carlton Johnson got his first interception of the night. That drive also showed the biggest negative of the night, injuries. ASU went through 3 QBs on the night as both starter Trenton Bourguet and backup Drew Pyne would exit the game with injuries alongside 4-5 other injured players. Nobody wants to see injuries, and we all hope that they can recover quickly.

It would take 8 plays to get the Dogs back into the redzone, before a sack from Ro Torrance sent Keene back 9yds. Dylan Lynch sent the first of his 5 field goals through the uprights, but it really would set the tone for the offense. The Devils would have 4 more turnovers in the first half alone, including the goalline stand, but it was still only 16-0 at the halftime break. Ro Torrance would slow down the next drive setting up Lynch’s second field goal. Drew Pyne’s fumble would lead to the next one before both teams settled in for their longest drives of the night, neither of which led to points. The Bulldog defense stood tall again on a goal line stand, but their 15 play and 50 yard drive back past midfield ended in a punt for Carson King. One more Drew Pyne interception to Carlton Johnson gave the Dogs one more shot at scoring before the half, but Lynch’s 53yd attempt sailed wide left.

Just like in the first half, Fresno State would march down the field with their first drive. It took only 4 plays before Jaelen Gill made a circus catch along the sideline and dodged defenders for a 42yd touchdown reception to open the scoring. Pyne wasn’t quite done yet giving the ball away though, as Cam Lockridge was the recipient of the turnover this time on a throw into heavy traffic. Gill again found positive yards, but Keene would miss his next two targets before Dylan Lynch’s 45yd field goal attempt knuckled on him and fell to the right of the goalposts.

The Devils still felt charitable, with Tevin White losing the ball on a run up the middle. Mikey Keene and the offense looked good to begin the ensuing drive, including converting a 4th down try to Erik Brooks and a run from Malik Sherrod down to the 11yd line. Prince Dorbah and Shamari Simmons put an end to that unfortunately, as both sacked Keene on consecutive plays to set up a successful Dylan Lynch 50yd field goal to go ahead 26-0.

You really thought the turnovers were done, didn’t you? Well, Jacob Conover wanted to make sure that Carlton Johnson had a chance to pick off all 3 ASU QBs, as Johnson jumped a route on the sideline and grabbed the pass. Not even starting in the redzone at the 15 was enough fix Fresno’s finicky offense, as 3 straight passes missed their marks before Lynch booted through one more field goal on the night.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Alzillion Hamilton brought in the 5th interception of the night, bringing the final turnover total to 8 plus 1 turnover on downs. A truly historic showing on defense, but there remains a lot of question marks on offense. After seeing their first week performance at Purdue, it is good to remember just how inexperienced this offense is working together. There are enough flashes of brilliance to remind us of what is to come, but it’s mired in mistakes and stalled out drives. There’s no reason that this game shouldn’t have ended up with Fresno State hovering around 50 points instead of 30, but turning 8 turnovers into 5 field goals isn’t great math. The coaching staff will need to put work in on redzone offense and protections if they want to take the next step.

Looking ahead after collecting almost $2.5 million for Fresno’s two Power 5 wins this year, they return to Valley Children’s Stadium for a date against Kent State to finish up the non-conference slate. The Golden Flashes are currently 1-2, with their sole win coming Saturday over Central Connecticut State after being blown out by UCF and Arkansas to begin the season. The opening line for the game has Fresno State as almost a 4 touchdown favorite, but we’ll need to see some more consistent offense if the Dogs want to keep the winning streak going to lucky number 13. They are solely in 2nd place in the country behind only the other Bulldogs of Georgia. If the defense continues how they played Saturday night, and the offense is able to finish drives, this Bulldog team could be a dangerous one for the rest of the MWC. Keep it tuned here for all of the action and news.