Jul 16, 2020
(From left to right) Fresno State’s Dontae Bull, Cesar Silva and Jorge Reyna grieve after their loss against the Minnesota Gophers on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Larry Valenzuela/ The Collegian)

Wednesday Warmup: A tale of two interceptions

Two weeks in a row, two years in a row and once again an interception breaks the hearts of Fresno State fans. At this rate, many are certain that either the sky is falling or this team is cursed.

A few parallels can be found between the 2018 Minnesota game and the 2019 Minnesota game. Meanwhile, there were also parallels between this past week’s game and the Bulldogs’ matchup against University of Southern California (USC) in Week 1.

Let’s start with the most obvious parallel: losing for the second straight year against Minnesota via an interception in the final stages of the game. In both games, the Bulldogs were in great scoring position on first down, so it was decided that the best way to get into the end zone would be to pass the ball.

In 2018, at the goal line, Bulldogs head football coach Jeff Tedford figured that the best chance to score a game-tying touchdown and send the game into overtime was to, instead of using wrestling All-American and tough-as-nails Josh Hokit, have him surprise everyone in the nation, except for a Gopher safety, and throw a halfback pass.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Bulldogs are down 38-35 in double overtime with the ball in their hands – and the opportunity to win the game or at the very least tie it. Quarterback Jorge Reyna’s decision was to shoot for the end zone, to an all but wide open Cam Sutton, and have his errant pass picked off by a Gopher safety.

On first thought, if you have a man open in the end zone, you pull the trigger. But in this instance, running back Ronnie Rivers at times was giving the Minnesota defense fits, gaining 76 yards on the ground on 15 carries, and Hokit was not utilized nearly enough, having only one carry. The decision makes you wonder: did we need to go for it all or could we have gained the yardage needed to win through more methodical means?

How about one more parallel fun fact: the Golden Gophers safety who sealed both defeats with interceptions was Antione Winfield Jr.

There was a turning point in last week’s game that may have gone unnoticed at first glance, but with the game tied 28-28 and under a minute to go, Fresno State had the ball with all of its timeouts and the chance to send everyone home happy with a game-winning drive. The Bulldogs went three and out, with two passes nearly picked off and Reyna being chased out of the pocket. They ended up having to punt after 33 seconds ran off the clock.

That drive was a very similar situation that exposed itself in both Week 1 and Week 2, when the Bulldogs just converted a miraculous fourth down and long, down by eight points and all the momentum on their side at the L.A. Coliseum.

On first down, with a chance to tie the game, the decision was made to go no huddle and roll the dice on a strike to the end zone. The ensuing pass was ultimately picked off after going for it all instead of calling a timeout and having the offense gather its composure.

The reasoning behind this move was that the Bulldogs’ defense had just stopped the USC offense in under a minute giving the offense a chance to tie the game while also needing a quick score and having three timeouts at your disposal. You save the timeouts for when, or if, you score, and give the offense the ball with under a minute to go.

For those who are still having trouble visualizing the situation, Tedford finally got the situation he was looking for in Week 1. Having all of his timeouts and the opportunity for his offense to drive down the field and get the game-winning score, once again it didn’t turn out the way the team and the Red Wave wanted it.

The bottom line is, football can be a cruel mistress at times, and very rarely do opportunities fall in your lap – let alone multiple times through the course of two seasons – and as has been proven, those opportunities can be easily snatched away in an instant.

In last week’s column, I posed the question: “Were the expectations unreasonable?” in regards to the fan base’s prognostications. Now this week, with the Bulldogs sitting at 0-2, I will once again pose the question: “Were the expectations unreasonable?” but this time in regards to Tedford’s expectations of Reyna.

For the second week in a row, I am not siding with a radical selection of Red Wavers gathering their torches and pitchforks as they once again call for the head of Reyna and the few who also feel Tedford’s head should be on a stake following his decision making.

The coaching career of Tedford and his coaching philosophy has been well documented, as the latter leans more toward aggressiveness, being much more inclined to take risks in big situations, a fine ideal for a head coach, but only if the team has a signal caller who can execute in pressure situations.

Going forward, Reyna is coupled with the success and demise of the 2019 season, and I believe that, at this point, replacing him with another quarterback would prove futile and do more harm to the team than keeping him as the starting quarterback.

The aggressiveness of Tedford’s play calling and the skill set of Reyna mix as well as oil and water. Going forward, I believe that play-calling style cannot be converted successfully by Reyna. Even though it goes against his coaching philosophy, it might be time for more conservative play calling in crucial situations.

Final Seconds

I am glad singer and national treasure John Legend was at this past week’s game, because this is the first time I’ve ever seen a fan base openly lose its [expletive] over a person who was actively rooting against their team. But hey, “Love in the Future” was pretty good.

And for those fans who decided to leave way too early when your team needed you the most, I’m sure you need to get a leg up on that Cedar and Shaw traffic, because, Lord, it takes over 10 minutes to get out of the Bulldogs Stadium radius following the game.

If that is the case, you fans might as well stay home, like those who own red seats on the east side of the stadium and decided that supporting their team wasn’t important enough, leaving a gaping hole in that section that was visible from space.

If you own tickets and choose not to go, find a better way to make use of those tickets and find fans who appreciate them, but can’t afford them. And after an 0-2 start, I’m pretty sure in both cases those mentioned were planning on staying home anyway.

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