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Fresno State's student-run newspaper

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Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

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Column: After impressive victory, Fresno State football deserves all the hype

Defensive+linemen+Devo+Bridges+celebrates+after+a+play+against+Kent+State+at+Valley+Childrens+Stadium%2C+on+Sept.+23.
Jaqueline Carrillo
Defensive linemen Devo Bridges celebrates after a play against Kent State at Valley Children’s Stadium, on Sept. 23.

Entering the season, there were questions surrounding the Fresno State football team. Would University of Central Florida quarterback transfer Mikey Keene be able to play near the level that Jake Haener did the season prior? How would the wide receiver group look after losing its top three targets? Who would step up as the go-to running back after Jordan Mims’ departure? How would the defense look after losing two All-Mountain West players after defensive end David Perales headed to the NFL and safety Evan Williams transferred to Oregon? 

Four weeks into the season, the ‘Dogs are 4-0, ranked 25th in the AP Poll and have resoundingly answered these questions. Keene has thrown 12 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions while completing 67.5% of passes. Wide receiver Erik Brooks has emerged as Keene’s go-to target and has been one of the most productive receivers in the country. Running back Elijah Gilliam has been a reliable option in the backfield and scored 3 touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 53-10 throttling of Kent State. His efforts have been rewarded, as he was given a scholarship this past week. Defensive linemen such as Devo Bridges have stepped up, and senior safety and Kent State transfer Dean Clark has mixed in perfectly with the experienced defensive backs.

Even after improving to 4-0 with their dominant win, Head Coach Jeff Tedford says the ‘Dogs still have work to do as they go into Mountain West play on Sept. 30 against Nevada. 

“It’s nice to be 4-0 after the games we’ve played, but now it’s for real. Conference play is what counts,” Tedford said at the post-game press conference.

The win over Kent State was easily Fresno State’s most complete game of the season. Even though Fresno State had a statement win over Arizona State last week, the Bulldogs left a lot of points on the board and should’ve scored more than 29 points. 

Keene also had his most efficient night of the season, completing 24/31 passes for 325 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He spread the ball around as four different Bulldogs had over 50 receiving yards. Wide receiver Jalen Moss led the team with 120 yards. 

“He’s [Keene] not going to do too much, not going to be too flashy,” Moss said. “He’s going to make the right play.” 

Despite scoring touchdowns on all seven drives Keene was on the field, he still saw ways that he and the team could improve on. 

“There were some reads I wish I had back, some other throws I wish I put in better spots for my guys,” Keene said. “But we have a great receiving core; we got a great running back. Tonight was a great night to let our guys be able to get the ball in space and make people miss.” 

After making a great diving catch for a touchdown on the first drive of the game, Brooks  surpassed his total yardage from last year and, more importantly, has served as a leader of the offense, receiving high praise from Tedford. 

“Never makes a mental mistake, he’s always where he’s supposed to be,” Tedford said. “You get the ball in there, and he’s going to make the catch.” 

Brooks and Moss aren’t the only receivers who have stepped up when needed this year. Boston College transfer Jaelen Gill is tied with Moss for the second-most receptions on the team at 20. Gill also serves as the team’s primary kickoff returner. 

Even though Gill only recorded 28 yards against Kent State, his impact was felt in many other ways. He threw a touchdown pass to Gilliam on a trick play and recovered Moss’ fumble in the endzone for a touchdown. 

While the offense received all the attention after the 53-point outburst, the defense made huge plays when they were called upon. They held the Golden Flashes to 3-10 on third down. The only blemish on the defense was the run defense in the first half when they gave up 123 yards. The concern was short-lived, as they only gave up 6 rushing yards in the second half. 

One week after recording 5 interceptions against Arizona State, Fresno State didn’t have any against Kent State. This was no fault of their own, however, as the pass defense was still elite. Kent State quarterback Michael Alaimo only completed 8 of his 15 passes for 102 yards and zero touchdowns. 

Even after losing Williams after last season, the secondary is a huge strength of the team. The cornerback duo of Cam Lockridge and Carlton Johnson has a lot of experience, and both are capable of making big plays when they are tested. 

Last season, Lockridge had 5 interceptions in the team’s final seven games, including two in the Mountain West Championship game against Boise State. 

As for Johnson, he is currently tied for first in the nation with 3 interceptions, all of which came in the 29-0 win against Arizona State. 

Nickelback Morice Norris Jr. has yet to record an interception, but he has still made huge plays. He leads the team with 4 tackles for loss.

The safety duo of Clark and Steven Comstock has also been solid. 

Facing off against his former team, Kent State, Clark led Fresno State with 6 tackles. 

“It was awesome to see those guys again; they have a long trip back to Ohio now,” Clark said on seeing his former teammates after the game.

Another bright spot of the star-studded defense is linebacker Levelle Bailey. Bailey was initially recruited by Tedford in 2018 and is now in his fifth and final season at Fresno State. 

Bailey has been as reliable as it comes this season. In the first four games, he has had 2 forced fumbles and an interception and is tied with Clark for the team lead with 24 tackles. 

In the first game against Purdue, Bailey sealed the 39-35 win with a pass deflection on fourth down. In the next game against Eastern Washington, he had the game-winning interception in double-overtime to finish off the 34-31 win. 

An underrated strength of the team is the culture that Tedford has built. After former head coach Kalen DeBoer left for Washington, the future of Fresno State football was uncertain; the uncertainty even caused Haener to enter the transfer portal. But once Tedford returned as head coach, all uncertainty was erased. 

The way he has taken a team with several question marks on offense and turned them into a force should not go unnoticed. Since he’s returned, the ‘Dogs are 14-4 and have won 13 straight games, the team’s longest win streak of the 21st century and the second longest in the nation behind two-time defending national champions Georgia.

With the offense and defense rolling, Fresno State is a serious threat in the Mountain West once again. 

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