Fresno State redshirt freshman receiver KeeSean Johnson (3) evades a defender during the Bulldogs’ 34-13 win over Abilene Christian Thursday night at Bulldog Stadium. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
A fairly young Bulldogs squad opened the 2015 season Thursday night at home in fashion with a 34-13 victory over Abilene Christian University.
“Really pleased with how we played today,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We had a great crowd out there today and a ton of energy in the stadium. It’s been so long since we’ve been in the stadium, and felt great to be back on out there. It was an overall great environment. We came out with a ton of energy and really got a buzz off the crowd.
“We have a bunch of young players that we talked about. Our young guys are talented and they’re going to make some mistakes, but I think you saw some of the explosive ability that a lot of those guys played with.”
Fresno State got things rolling right away, engineering a four-play, 63-yard drive. The drive was capped by sophomore quarterback Zack Greenlee making an athletic play – escaping the pass rush and connecting with redshirt freshman wide receiver Jamire Jordan for the 25-yard score.
“Sometimes plays break down and I knew I had to get out of the pocket at that point,” Greenlee said. “I just tried to keep my eyes downfield and I found Jamire standing by himself by the pylon, so I put it on him. He made a great play by catching it and twisting and sticking the ball out there towards the pylon. It was a great play by him.”
The Wildcats got on the board minutes later to tie it up with a one-yard touchdown run from running back Herschel Sims.
Towards the end of the first quarter the Bulldogs would put together another long scoring drive, ending in a tight sideline throw to junior wide receiver Josiah Blandin for the 32-yard touchdown.
“It was a converted play because of the coverage they were running,” Blandin said. “Zack threw me the ball and I had to make a play.”
The junior transfer finished the night with four catches for a game-high 71 receiving yards. Blandin’s athletic grab put the ‘Dogs up a score heading into the second quarter, where true freshman quarterback Chason Virgil made his college debut.
Greenlee and Virgil split reps in the season opener, just as DeRuyter said they would entering game week. Greenlee finished 14-of-32 for 156 yards and three scores while Virgil completed 8-of-13 for 61 yards and a score. Each quarterback also threw a pick.
In his initial appearance, Virgil came in and put together a 10-play scoring drive ending with a four-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Chad Olsen to put the ‘Dogs up 21-7 before halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, Fresno State scored another touchdown on a deep pass from Greenlee to Olsen and a pair of field goals to increase their lead to 34-7 — their largest of the game — before ACU scored in the final seconds of the game on a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dallas Sealey to receiver Byron Proctor.
Senior running back Marteze Waller paved the way on the ground, rushing 22 times for 154 yards, marking the 9th career 100-yard game of his college career.
One of the major headlined leading up to the season was the quarterback position with four vying for the starting spot, but Greenlee eventually pulling away and securing the start for the opener. DeRuyter was content with the performance of his starting quarterback but noted there are still aspects of his game he can improve and build as the season goes on. DeRuyter added that by getting Virgil some reps, he was able to create some depth.
“I thought our quarterbacks played well, in particular Zack,” DeRuyter said. “He’s made a ton of growth from a year ago. We saw that at practice but until you go out and see him do it against somebody else, you don’t really know. I thought he did a really nice job stepping up to the challenge and leading our team.”