The Fresno State Bulldogs have, for many years now, displayed a strange penchant for getting all geared up for (and playing extremely well in) obviously tough games against storied football powers (like Nebraska, Texas A&M, USC, Oregon, UCLA, etc.) - and then, when facing a subsequent, somewhat lesser opponent, having a palpable let down, a lessening of intensity, somehow.....
Is that a "team culture" thing? A systemic mindset? Is that a coaching problem?
BTW, here's a question for you...how come Boise State doesn't do that kind of thing? Is that a coaching thing? Just asking...
Here's my take on the North Dakota game, good and bad. Let's start with the bad.
1. A moral defeat
OK, so we often talk about "moral victories" - you know, when the ‘Dogs play a great team to a standstill, scare them badly with the prospect of a defeat, and then lose by a whisker. We often refer to that as a "moral victory" - i.e., "we won that game everywhere but on the scoreboard!"
Yeah, well, this the opposite of that. Because Saturday night, a big underdog (minus 28 points) came into Bulldog Stadium, played Fresno State to a standstill, scared the ‘Dogs badly with the prospect of defeat and lost a close game in the last few minutes. So, that was a moral defeat.
In the words of Paul Loeffler, the excellent KMJ sports announcer, "Now we know how Nebraska felt!" Exactly.
2. What happened to the fire in the belly?
It was burning bright, in Lincoln, Nebraska, a few days ago. Maximum effort. Great execution. Pretty good coaching (except for that damned punt with 1:50 left in the game!). Last night, however, aside from a few flashes of brilliance (by Derek Carr, Jalen Saunders, Robbie Rouse and Logan Harrell), the Bulldogs played a lackluster, lackadaisical, unmotivated, "going through the motions" kind of game. Sad. Discouraging. Inconsistent.
It also means the Bulldog fans are left to wonder - "Reckon which team is gonna show up at that Kibbe Dome zepplin-hangar, next Saturday in Moscow? The Cal/North Dakota team, or the Nebraska team?" Better hope for the latter. Play like they did against the Fighting Sioux and Fresno State will get whipped by the Idaho Vandals. Plain and simple.
3. A star is emerging
If you missed the opening play, you missed my point. That was a near perfect strike. An 86-yard, picture book bomb. A highlight reel rocket that hit Jalen Saunders for a touchdown. It took all of 15 seconds from the snap to the ref raising both arms. A couple drives later, Carr did it again with a 52-yard touchdown throw that was even better - according to Saunders - he didn't even break stride. Wham. Bam. Touchdown, ma'am.
Those two throws were revealing. Arm strength. Vision. Timing. Instinct. This kid has got it. Buckle your seat belt. We are going to witness some wonders (we already have!) in this, his rookie year as a starter.
4. Robbie Rouse doesn't need to emerge
He's already a star. The man is relentlessly aggressive and boldly determined. There is no quit in him. My wife said it best. "He runs just as hard in the fourth quarter, as he does in the first!" she said. She also noted that he was "wearing down" the defenders, and that they were probably tired of seeing him get the ball. She's right.
Rouse had 110 yards on 27 carries, for 4.1 yards per effort. That's pretty steady. It's hard to criticize him. He has effectively shut up those of us who said he was too short, too light and not tough to be an "every down back". Bull. That is exactly what he is.
5. Defensive Stud Logan Harrell
"Oh," said lots of "expert" friends of mine. "He was just benefitting from Chris Carter being double-teamed, last year. He will never be that good this year..." Really? Have you been watching him play? He pretty much lived in the North Dakota backfield, all night. Pitched a tent, back there. Eleven (11) tackles, 4.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks. This is a serious defensive tackle. Please God, send the ‘Dogs another, just like him, next year. Amen.
6. Speaking of prayer...
You better send up a few and ask the Man Upstairs for help in the Bulldogs' defensive backfield. Start with a new DB coach. Yeah, there have been a lot of injuries, but even when the DBs were healthy, they still stank. Especially the corners. Just sayin... Learn to tackle and don't give them a six-yard cushion, every play! Sorry. I'll calm down.
Is there any scotch left?
See you after the Kibbie Dome,
Redroadster is highly regarded attorney in the Central Valley, a loyal Bulldog fan, and a regular poster/contributor on BarkBoard.com. Check in time to time for his take on games and other Bulldog athletic events in his View from the Roadster.
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