After two road games and a bye week, the Fresno State football team returns to Bulldog Stadium Saturday night to wrap up its nonconference portion of the regular season schedule when it takes on the University of Toledo Rockets.
The Bulldogs last faced the Rockets on Sept. 17, 2016 and were blown off the turf by a score of 52-17 in Toledo, Ohio.
Fresno State still features five starters from that game, including receiver Keesean Johnson, tight end Kyle Riddering, offensive linemen Micah St. Andrew and Christian Cronk. Senior linebacker James Bailey is the only defensive starter remaining from that team.
Toledo sports a high-powered offense that scores more than 50 points a game this season, including last weekend’s 63-44 blowout victory over Nevada in Toledo.
The Rockets are very talented on offense, Bulldogs head coach Jeff Tedford said. Toledo quarterback Mitchell Guadagni has been torching defenses all season, culminating last week when he threw four touchdown passes and for over 200 yards. He added another two rushing touchdowns and 131 yards on the ground.
“[Guadagni] can make some big plays with his legs, and he is a very accurate passer, and those receivers are very dangerous,” Tedford said. “They are very well-coached and very explosive on offense with a corps of receivers that are probably as good as any, and the quarterback is playing really well and is very dangerous when he pulls the ball down.”
As Tedford alluded, receivers figure to be a big factor for both teams if they are to be successful at moving the ball and scoring points.
Toledo’s Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson headline the team’s receiving corps. The duo have combined to score eight of Toledo’s 10 passing touchdowns, including four between the two against Nevada.
The ‘Dogs feature an elite pass catcher of their own in KeeSean Johnson. He was named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list, the award given to the most outstanding collegiate receiver in the nation.
Johnson also is the nation’s active leader in catches with 200 and consecutive games with a reception with 39 straight. He leads the Bulldogs in 2018 with 20 receptions and 292 receiving yards to go along with a touchdown.
But, in the end, the ‘Dogs receivers will have to rely on senior quarterback Marcus McMaryion to get them the ball.
McMaryion has definitely had his ups and downs through the first three weeks of the season. Against Idaho, he was on target with his passes, finding Johnson and fellow receiver Jamire Jordan deep down the field for big gains.
He was less than stellar against the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers on Sept. 8, but still with under a minute to go in the game, the ‘Dogs had an opportunity to tie the game and possibly head to overtime. A poorly timed interception on a stupefying half-back pass play call resulted in an interception, effectively ending the game.
But, he bounced back in a big way against UCLA on Sept. 16 with four rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown, all while throwing for nearly 300 yards. It could be considered his best game as a Bulldog.
Defensively, Fresno State should be well enough equipped to combat Toledo’s offensive attack. Statistically, the ‘Dogs have been one of the best teams in the Mountain West and the entire nation.
The team ranks third out of 129 ranked Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in third-down conversion percentage defense. It also is third in FBS in turnovers gained and second in turnover margin.
They rank first in the Mountain West in points allowed per game, surrendering only 16 per contest.
‘Dogs’ senior linebacker Jeff Allison leads the team in tackles, just as he did during the 2017 season, and has been flying around the field, nabbing two interceptions in Fresno State’s dominating 38-14 victory at UCLA.
Often though, games can be decided on perhaps the least appreciated aspect of football: special teams.
“A couple punts blocked for touchdowns, a 98-yard kickoff return last week for a touchdown. When those things are happening, you know you are going up against a well-coached team; a team that plays really hard,” Tedford said of Toledo.
Fresno State has had great success as well on special teams. Junior defensive back Jaron Bryant returned two blocked field goals for touchdowns against Idaho in Week 1 of the season.
If all goes according to plan, Tedford and the ‘Dogs will be celebrating another victory against a quality opponent as the conference schedule gets set to open. Tedford implored fans to show up in full force to cheer on the ‘Dogs.
“Hopefully we have a good crowd and make it difficult on Toledo in our home stadium with our crowd noise. We need everyone to come out and help us with that,” Tedford said.