While sitting in the media room at Bulldog Stadium as joyous cheers of the visiting athletic director and his guests were audible from the room next door, the possibility that this Fresno State football team may fail to become bowl eligible became a reality.
As the weeks pass, every goal that was thrust upon the 2019 Bulldogs have begun to falter one by one. So far, a New Year’s Six bowl, Top 25 Ranking, Mountain West Championship and finishing first in the MW West Division have all been crossed off the list.
If the Bulldogs continue to perform the way they did this past week, bowl eligibility will be the next to fall.
This past week, the Bulldogs’ loss could be chalked up to numerous mistakes, including allowing big plays to the Colorado State offense, a season-high nine penalties for 74 yards and offensive ineptitude when it came to third down conversions (2-13 on third down efficiency).
The biggest hindrance to the Bulldogs’ offense is its inability to put itself in manageable third down situations. On Saturday, the Fresno State offense found itself facing a third and long (beyond five yards) in nine of its 13 third down attempts, only able to convert once on a third and nine in the third quarter.
Head coach Jeff Tedford addressed the issue of third down conversions in his press conference stating, “I think the third-down situations happened from not staying on schedule. When it’s third and long, it’s tough to convert.”
A bright spot for the Bulldogs continues to be the efforts in the run game by Ronnie Rivers, who ran for a season-high 146 yards on 14 rushes, and Josh Hokit, who continues to be a useful force in the red zone, adding two more touchdowns to his team-high nine on the season.
In the past two games, both Rivers and Hokit have accounted for nine of the 11 touchdowns scored by the Bulldogs in those matchups. But with Fresno State continuing to put itself in long yardage situations, the run game is all but null and void.
The way this season has been going, it becomes increasingly easy to try and find a scapegoat to blame, with many saying it was Tedford’s play calling that cost them the game or Reyna running — choosing not to pass for the first down during a crucial drive.
But it may be time to accept that the loss to a 2-5, 14-point underdog Colorado State team was a team effort. The season-high penalties, allowing 500 yards of offense, failure to convert on third down and turnovers in crucial situations were done as a team.
With the Bulldogs currently sitting at 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Mountain West, the recent play of the team makes it plausible that Fresno State won’t be victorious in any one of its upcoming three games.
In the next three games, the Bulldogs will be traveling to Honolulu, Hawaii, to face a 5-3 Rainbow Warrior team that has wins over Pac-12 opponents (Arizona and Oregon State), a competitive Utah State team and a newly-ranked No. 24 San Diego State in San Diego.
It is very unfortunate for the Bulldogs that during a down year for the team, the MW has become one of the most difficult leagues to play in in 2019, with two of the best mid-major teams in the conference (Boise State and San Diego State) and many other teams that have been competitive this year.
Island of Terror
It is quite fitting that in the same week as Halloween, as Fresno State will be traveling once again to “The Island” to face a good Hawaii team and also fight the supernatural hold Aloha Stadium has over Bulldogs.
Hawaii, in the past, has always been a place where good Bulldogs teams go to die, with Bulldog greats like Kevin Sweeney (’86), Trent Dilfer (’92) and David Carr (’01) all suffering losses while leading some of the best rosters in program history to Honolulu.
Aloha Stadium hasn’t been as scary of a place to play for Fresno State like it has been in the past — winning all five matchups since 2009 against the Rainbow Warriors — and exorcising the ghosts that have plagued the Bulldogs every time they travel to Honolulu every December, beating Houston in the 2017 Hawai’i Bowl.
But despite recent success, the Bulldogs currently have a 13-14 all-time record at the island and beyond their series with the Rainbow Warriors, Fresno State has played in a bowl game at Aloha Stadium four times and has only emerged as the victor once.
During the Bulldogs’ bowl history in Hawaii, the ‘Dogs have suffered losses in 1993 against the Colorado Buffaloes 41-30 in the Aloha Bowl, while also losing 43-10 to the SMU Mustangs — a team led by another Bulldog quarterbacking great, Derek Carr — and a 2014 loss to the Rice Owls 30-6, both in the Hawai’i Bowl.
The Bulldogs will now travel across the Pacific to face one of the top offenses in the MW and one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in Cole McDonald, a week after allowing 500 yards to Colorado State.
McDonald ranks fourth in the country in passing yards (2,521), passing touchdowns (24) and total offense (2,857 and 357.1 yards per game). On top of his ability to score through the air, McDonald has rushed for 336 yards and three touchdowns.
This week will be another tough matchup for the Bulldogs defense, a defense that has proven to be incalculable in the past few weeks.