Singing the oranges and blues
Bulldogs' quick start not enough to overcome Boise dominance
By Jeffrey Christian
For the first time in seven seasons, the Fresno State football team will be stuck watching bowl games at home during the New Year’s holiday.
With a 1-7 record, Fresno State has been unable to break out of a losing funk that started after winning its home opener. The team that knocked the Bulldogs out of bowl contention was rival Boise State who since the 2002 season has posted a 54-7 record and in that stretch has gone 31-0 at home. That’s correct, since the 2002 season; Boise State has lost as many games as Fresno State has this year.
Over the past five years, Boise State has created the BCS program that Fresno State has envied. The Broncos have won four consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles and have posted several wins against schools from power conferences, all while not being taken seriously by some for playing on “smurf turf” and in a non-power conference.
Boise State moved a step closer to WAC title number five with a machine-like 45-21 victory over Fresno State Wednesday night.
The difference between the two teams was quite clear to anyone watching. The Broncos had an aura of confidence and a championship swagger in their step. On the opposite sideline, Fresno State seemed dejected and it almost felt as if any big play or call was going to go against the Bulldogs, whether it was a 15-yard personal foul penalty or a 30-yard fake punt return.
Once again the Bulldogs offense struggled to consistently move the ball. Whether it was Sean Norton or Tom Brandstater at quarterback, the passing game couldn’t breakthrough the man-to-man press coverage of the Boise State defense.
Injuries and inexperience have hobbled the Bulldogs receivers all season. Defenses have continually overloaded the line of scrimmage, challenging the Bulldogs receivers to beat single coverage.
The inability of the receivers to win one-on-one situations and stretch the field has plagued offensive production all season.
Paul Williams, Fresno State’s big play threat, has battled and played through injuries all season.
Constant injuries to the experienced wide receivers, Williams and Joe Fernandez, combined with the quarterback and offensive line struggles, have rendered the offense one-dimensional and ineffective.
While the offensive passing game has struggled to beat coverage, the Bulldogs defensive secondary has struggled to provide coverage at all.
Fresno State’s pass defense has been nothing short of horrendous this season. Going into Wednesday’s game, the Bulldogs were the only defensive unit in Division-1A football that hadn’t forced an interception. The Bulldogs put that dubious statistic to rest as Damon Jenkins intercepted a Zabranksy pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs inability to create turnovers stems from the lack of a consistent defensive pass rush and the failure of the defensive backs to read the quarterback and break on the ball. Several times they’ve failed to turn back and look at the ball at all.
Fresno State’s defensive line has been unable to create pressure without the help of a blitz, and when they have pressured the quarterback, they have been unable to contain and make the open field tackle.
Several times Wednesday night, defensive pressure hurried Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky and forced him out of the pocket. However, Zabransky continually avoided pressure and turned potential sacks into long first down runs as he rushed for 57 yards.
The Bulldogs defense couldn’t match the speed and execution of the Boise State offense. The Broncos racked up 480 yards of total offense — 300 of which were on the ground, and scored five unanswered touchdowns.
Zabransky threw three touchdown passes and potential Heisman Trophy candidate running back Ian Johnson rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
While the Broncos offense was spectacular, Fresno State’s offense was only able to muster one touchdown drive. Without a phenomenal 93-yard kickoff return by Chastin West and a 56-yard interception return by Damon Jenkins, the loss could have been much worse.
The different direction of the two teams is evident in scheduling as well. With only four games remaining, Fresno State will try to salvage their utterly disappointing season by posting victories in four winnable games. The Boise State victory machine has three stops left, the most dangerous being a trip to Nevada, to secure itself a berth in a BCS bowl game.
Like it or not, Boise State has laid out the formula for team’s from a non-BCS conference to crash the BCS Bowl parade. Now it’s time for Fresno State to break out their calculators and protractors and make changes to their equation going into next year.
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