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Column: Fresno State’s run defense cost the team a chance at the Mountain West title

The+Fresno+State+football+team+runs+off+the+field+at+Valley+Childrens+Stadium+on+Nov.+18.
Jacqueline Carrillo/The Collegian
The Fresno State football team runs off the field at Valley Children’s Stadium on Nov. 18.

The Bulldogs were already going to need some help from a few other conference teams in order to contend for the Mountain West title, but they unfortunately couldn’t even help themselves. 

Fresno State’s 25-17 loss against New Mexico completely ended its hopes of playing in the Mountain West title game.

With a full week to prepare for the starting quarterback position, Logan Fife looked poised and confident against New Mexico’s defense for most of the first half. Unfortunately, almost nothing else went Fresno State’s way for the rest of the game. Fife began with an impressive statline in the first half, completing 7 of his 10 passes for 114 yards and a rushing touchdown. 

Fresno State’s best drive came early in the first quarter when Fife completed a 53 yard pass to wide receiver Jalen Moss just before scrambling for what seemed like an extremely high-effort 1 yard go-ahead touchdown. 

The Bulldogs would go on to keep the lead for the rest of the half after this drive, but the halftime score of 14-12 would be their last lead of the game. 

It was truly impressive to watch Fife step up and play efficiently so early in the game. It took him almost no time at all to get into the swing of things, but everything fell apart for the team almost just as quickly. After two big drives in the first half, the Bulldogs offense repeatedly stalled out and failed to get into a rhythm, and the defense went on to allow over 500 total yards to the Lobos. This was, without a doubt, a huge disappointment to any Fresno State fan in attendance. 

Fresno State player Malachi Langley looks toward the field. (Jacqueline Carrillo/The Collegian)

Injuries have played a role in the failures of this Fresno State team, but ultimately the defensive play calling needs to be better. Players on defense missed tackles all night. They were usually high-effort tackles, which almost always means one of two things; either the players took bad angles to the ball, or the play calls put them in bad positions. 

In the fourth quarter, when the ‘Dogs were down 25-14, they made the questionable decision to put quarterback Mikey Keene in the game, despite the fact that he wasn’t initially deemed ready to start. 

“He didn’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday so he didn’t get a lot of reps,” Tedford explained when asked about the situation with Keene. 

The decision to bring Keene into the game seemed odd to say the least, but Tedford explained that the team was hoping to create a “spark” by making the change at quarterback. 

I don’t think the change at quarterback was the way to go. Fife wasn’t the reason that the offense was stagnant, and the team had already determined that Keene wasn’t ready to play this week. However, the game was all but over at this point, anyways, and the quarterback decision certainly wasn’t why Fresno State lost. 

The Bulldogs defense gave up over 300 yards on the ground for the second game in a row, which is undoubtedly the main reason that they’ve dropped back-to-back games. Allowing opponents to run the ball at will allows them to control the clock, the momentum of the game and it gives the opposing offense more time to rest on the sidelines. 

Fresno State fans leave the stadium during the second half of the game against New Mexico. (Jacqueline Carrillo/The Collegian)

Loading the box on defense in an effort to stop the run needed to be a priority much earlier in the game. The Bulldogs were up 14-12 coming out of halftime and they knew that the Lobos run game was beginning to heat up. New Mexico running back Jacory Croskey-Merritt ran for a 50 yard touchdown at the end of the first half and the play calling needed to shift from that moment. Unfortunately the Bulldogs would give up an abysmal 206 additional rushing yards in the second half. 

Fresno State’s defense allowed Croskey-Merritt to finish with his first 200 yard rushing game in his collegiate career. Croskey-Merritt ended up carrying the ball 21 times for 204 yards and two touchdowns on the night. This would be a career high statline for most college running backs. 

“I’m not going to make excuses,” Tedford said when asked about the team’s defensive performance. “I want to give New Mexico their credit. They have a very good offensive line … So give them credit for what they did.” 

Overall, Fresno State’s senior night game against what was supposed to be a very beatable opponent went about as poorly as it could have, and a backup quarterback or a stalling offense were hardly the biggest issues. 

The ‘Dogs have an away game in San Diego next week that they’ll likely be favored to win, but at this point we’ll just have to wait and see what happens on the field. The key to a win next week would probably be breaking the streak of allowing over 300 yards on the ground, and the team will almost certainly be looking to address this issue moving forward. 

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