Utah defensive end Jason Fanaika (51) hunts down Fresno State freshman quarterback Chason Virgil during Saturday’s nonconference battle at Bulldog Stadium. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
The Fresno State football team suffered their first loss in the black jerseys at the hands of No. 21 Utah, 45-24. In what was their second consecutive game against a ranked opponent, the Bulldogs once again entered the game as the underdog.
Needing to fire on all cylinders, the game opened up just the way the ‘Dogs needed. After the Utes fumbled the opening kickoff, the ‘Dogs were able to convert the turnover into three points and an early lead.
That, however, would be the only time the ‘Dogs would see a lead throughout the game. The Utes used a ten minute drive, a seven minute drive and a Bulldog fumble returned to the end zone to lead the ‘Dogs 17-3 at the half.
The ‘Dogs were unable to move the ball against the Utes’ defense in the first half, not maintaining a drive of more than two minutes in the period.
“They’re an excellent defensive team,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “They’re very physical up front just like we thought. They do a nice job of disguising some coverages and they play a bunch of man.”
Not only could the ‘Dogs not move the ball, the defense had a hard time stopping the Utes’ offense and Heisman-hopeful running back Devontae Booker.
The Utes converted on seven third downs and two fourth downs in the half, including a 30-yard run by Booker on 4th-and-1 for a touchdown. Booker ended the half with 95 yards rushing and a touchdown.
After fumbling the opening kickoff of the second half, the ‘Dogs were in need of something to go their way to get back into the game. Junior defensive back Tyquwan Glass answered that call when he picked off an errant pass from quarterback Kendal Thompson in the back of the end zone. However, the ‘Dogs could not make anything of the quick change of momentum, going three and out on their next drive.
Booker would then cap off the Utes’ next drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to increase the team’s lead to 24-3.
The ‘Dogs quickly answered in the fourth, forcing the Utes to turn the ball over for the third time in the game.
The ‘Dogs were able to make something out of the turnover this time. They capped off a 32-yard drive when Zack Greenlee connected with Josiah Blandin from six yards out for the touchdown, cutting into the Utes’ lead, now only trailing 24-10 with just over 11 minutes left in the game.
Prior to the touchdown, Greenlee had entered the game just four plays earlier after Chason Virgil suffered a shoulder injury at the end of a run. Virgil had become the first true freshman since 1973 to start a game at quarterback for the Bulldogs.
“When I got my opportunity I was just doing my job, just trying to help the team win,” Greenlee said. “The offense didn’t give up, we have a lot of fight left in us.”
The back-and-forth fourth quarter had just began. Following the ‘Dogs touchdown to open the quarter the Utes would return the following kickoff to the house, a 98-yard touchdown return to increase their lead to 31-10.
To answer that, the Utes would force the ‘Dogs to go three-and-out on their next drive and would regain their special teams magic returning the punt 77 yards for a touchdown.
However, Greenlee and the Bulldog offense had an answer for that return. Greenlee would connect with Jamire Jordan on the third play of their next drive for an 82-yard touchdown pass. That touchdown was the longest touchdown pass for the Bulldogs since Derek Carr found Davante Adams for an 89-yard touchdown back on Oct. 27, 2012 at New Mexico.
The ‘Dogs would surprise the Utes on the following kickoff and recover an onside kick to keep the momentum on their side. Greenlee would continue right where he left off following the kickoff recovery, connecting with Da’Mari Scott for a 32-yard touchdown pass to cut the Utes lead to 14, his third touchdown pass of the quarter.
“Congratulations to Utah,” DeRuyter said. “They’re very well deserving of their ranking. Our team is not feeling great. We feel we had an opportunity to win tonight.”
The Utes would quickly put an end to the Bulldogs’ hopes as they would put together a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that would run off the remaining six minutes. The Utes would end the blackout magic at home for the ‘Dogs, leaving Bulldog Stadium with the victory.
Greenlee finished the night with 144 yards on 6-for-10 passing and three touchdowns in one quarter of work. Marteze Waller added 62 yards on the ground on 16 carries to lead the rushing attack.
Booker lead the way for the Utes offensively, eclipsing the 100-yard mark and ending his night with 156 yards on 31 carries, including two touchdowns.
The nationally-ranked Utes only outgained the Bulldogs by just 15 total yards in the game, even with controlling the ball for 16 more minutes.
The ‘Dogs now hit the road to open Mountain West conference play as they make their way up to San Jose to take on the Spartans on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“I like the resolve in this team,” DeRuyter said. “We’re excited to start league and we’re ready to go in this league.”