On a celebratory night, Fresno State retired former quarterback Derek Carr’s jersey and gave hope to fans following last season’s turmoil, dominating the Incarnate Word Cardinals 66-0.
“I thought the team went into the game tonight with the focus they needed,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “We needed to stay focused on this game and on ourselves, and we did that.”
Walking down the tunnel for the first game of the year, the players said they could feel the energy buzzing from the announced crowd of 39,447.
“You definitely notice it as a player,” quarterback Chason Virgil said after the game. “We were able to see in warm-ups all the people that were standing around waiting for us to walk down the ramp, and the stadium kind of fills as the warm-ups go on. Coming out and to walk out you hear the fans screaming, and it was definitely loud, and it was good to see the stadium packed.”
Virgil completed 16 of 29 passing attempts for 246 yards and a touchdown. Ronnie Rivers started at running back. It was the first time a true freshman had started at running back since 1980. Rivers had 60 yards and a touchdown.
The defense set the tone early. Bulldogs’ defensive end Robert Stanley sacked Incarnate Word quarterback Taylor Laird on the Cardinals’ first drive.
“It feels good knowing all the hard work you put in through spring ball, summer and fall camp,” Stanley said. “It just feels good to come out here and execute. I feel like it was a collective effort. Guys were running around, bringing energy. It definitely brought momentum to the game.”
The Bulldogs piled on score after score, heading into halftime with a 34-0 lead.
But although the Bulldogs were playing well, the highlight of the night appeared to be halftime – Carr’s jersey retirement, as well as a surprise appearance from NBA all-star and former Bulldog Paul George.
George, along with the nearly sold-out crowd, congratulated Carr with a plaque and jersey.
Carr, and his older brother and former Bulldog, David Carr, held a news conference before the game. The brothers talked about their time as Bulldogs as well as what it means to have both of their jerseys retired.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to me,” Carr said. “I dreamed of this moment when I was a little boy, and now it’s finally happened.”
Carr was a child when his brother was a Bulldog, and he was motivated to earn a spot at Bulldog Stadium next to David’s No. 4.
“It’s definitely something I dreamed of,” Carr said. “What kept me focused was, No. 1, I wanted to give God everything I had, and No. 2, I wanted to put my name beside his.”
Even though Carr now plays for the Raiders in the NFL, he still made an effort to impact Fresno State before the game.
“He came to our pregame meal and said a few things to the team that hit the nail right on the head with what we want the guys to do,” Tedford said. “He really touched on how important all the little things are that people don’t see. Touchdowns and wins all start with the preparation that goes into that. As a staff, we talk about how important all that hard work and preparation really is.”
Carr’s brother David was thrilled to be back at Fresno State, and said he was proud of Carr for all his accomplishments.
“It’s hard because I don’t want to sound biased, but I would be a Derek Carr fan even if he was not my brother,” David Carr said. “It would probably be the only jersey I had. I told my wife I would never wear another man’s jersey, and his would be the only one I would wear.”
After the halftime ceremony, the Bulldogs continued their dominance over Incarnate Word.
Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion subbed for Virgil at quarterback, and immediately was successful.
His first drive ended in Carr-like fashion after he accurately placed a ball in the corner of the end zone from about 30 yards out, finding wide receiver Jamire Jordan for the touchdown.
The Bulldogs finished the game strong on defense, continuing to shutout the Cardinals. The 66 points was the most for Fresno State since a 69-28 victory over New Mexico in 2013, when Carr was quarterback.