Christmas came early for the Fresno State Bulldogs Saturday night.
“Those were gifts,” Nevada Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault said of the three touchdowns scored by the Bulldogs in Fresno State’s 52-36 victory over Nevada in front of a Mackay Stadium crowd of 22,104. “It’s just that simple.”
It was that unbelievable.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Ault said.
Fresno State returned one interception and two fumbles for touchdowns, equaling a Bulldogs’ school record for defensive touchdowns in a game set in 2004 against Washington. It is also the most touchdowns scored by an opposing defense against the Wolf Pack over the past 11 seasons. The most touchdowns a defense had scored on the Pack in a single game since 2002 was two by SMU in 2004, Rice in 2003 and Fresno State in 2002.
“That was the difference in the ballgame,” said Ault, who last saw an opposing defense score a touchdown on his Wolf Pack in the first game of the 2011 season at Oregon.
The loss also eliminated the Wolf Pack from the Mountain West championship race. The Pack is now 6-4 overall and 3-3 in conference with two games to play. Fresno State (8-3 overall) and San Diego state (8-3) are both tied for first in the Mountain West at 6-1 with one game to play. Boise State (8-2) , which comes to Mackay Stadium on Dec. 1, is also in the race at 5-1 with two games to play.
“You just can’t give a good team which Fresno is 21 points and expect to win,” Ault said.
The Bulldogs’ Derron Smith return an interception of a Cody Fajardo pass 34 yards for a touchdown to give Fresno State a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. It was the first interception return for a touchdown against the Pack since Oregon returned a Fajardo pass for a score on Sept. 10, 2011 in a 69-20 Pack loss.
“There was no reason to throw that pass,” said Ault, referring to Fajardo’s mistake Saturday night.
The Bulldogs then blew the game open in the third quarter with a pair of defensive scores on Wolf Pack fumbles. Tyeler Davison picked up a Fajardo fumble in the end zone to give Fresno a 28-21 lead less than a minute into the third quarter and Travis Brown picked up a Stefphon Jefferson fumble and carried it 26 yards into the end zone for a 38-21 Fresno lead with 8:45 to go in the third quarter.
The last time the Pack had allowed a defense to score two touchdowns in a game on fumble returns was in a 38-20 loss to SMU in 2004.
“I’m really disgusted with the turnovers,” Ault said.
The Pack turned the ball over four times — Fajardo also was picked off a second time — for their most turnovers since they coughed it up five times in a 37-0 win over UNLV last season.
“He had a great two weeks of practice,” said Ault of Fajardo, who completed 21-of-39 passes for 214 yards and rushed for 59 yards in 22 carries when he wasn’t handing the ball to the Fresno defense.
Ault refused to give Fresno’s defense much credit. The Bulldogs have now scored eight defensive touchdowns this year.
“From their standpoint they are great takeaways,” Ault said. “From my standpoint they were just taking it out of people’s hands. When you have that ball you have to protect it.”
The Wolf Pack, losers of three in a row for the first time since they were 0-3 to start the 2009 season, had just one lead the entire game. Jefferson, who scored three first-half touchdowns, gave the Pack a 21-14 lead on a 7-yard run with 4:41 to go in the second quarter.
That lead, though, lasted only a little more than three minutes as the Bulldogs tied the game 21-21 going into the second half on a 32-yard pass from quarterback Derek Carr to a wide open Marcel Jensen with 1:28 to go in the second quarter.
“At halftime I felt good about what we were trying to do,” Ault said. “We knew we’d get in a scoring match but we felt we could stride with them.”
Fresno, though, outscored the Wolf Pack 23-0 in the third quarter to take a 44-21 lead into the final 15 minutes. The Bulldogs Quentin Breshears kicked a 31-yard field goal and running back Robbie Rouse scored from a yard out as the Fresno offense did its best to keep up with its defense in the scoring department.
“Rouse really got going in the third quarter,” Ault said.
The Fresno running back shredded the Pack defense for 261 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. It tis the most yards rushing by a Pack opponent in a single game since Ault returned to the sideline in 2004, eclipsing the 257 yards Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Moats rushed for in 2004 against the Pack. Rouse also became the first back to rush for 200 or more yards in a game twice against the Pack since Nevada joined Division I-A in 1992. He had 217 against Nevada in 2010.
The only other backs to rush for 200 or more yards against the Wolf Pack since 2002 have been Boise State’s Ian Johnson in 2007 (205), Nebraska’s Marlon Lucky in 2007 (233), Central Florida’s Kevin Smith n 2005 (202) and SMU’s Brandon Diles in 2004 (202). California’s Shane Vereen came close (198 in 2010) as did Moats a second time (199 in 2003).
“Offensively speaking we didn’t give our defense much help when we turned the ball over,” Ault said.
The Wolf Pack turnovers, though, did help keep Fresno’s offense off the field. The Bulldogs had the ball for just 29:13.
“The offense didn’t give the defense much enthusiasm to play hard,” Ault said.
The Wolf Pack did score a pair of consolation touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Nick Hale caught an 11-yard scoring pass from Fajardo and red-shirt freshman Anything Knight found the end zone on a 1-yard run to close out the scoring with 4:21 to play.
Rouse, though, turned the game into a rout (52-28) with a 39-yard run through the Pack defense with 10 minutes to play.
The Pack, whose three-game losing streak began with a 39-38 overtime loss to San Diego State on Oct. 20, has now lost back-to-back home games for the first time since losing to Texas Tech and New Mexico State a month apart in 2008. The loss was also the Pack’s first to Fresno State since a 49-41 loss in 2007 at Mackay Stadium. It was also the Pack’s first loss to Fresno State since Colin Kaepernick became the starter at quarterback the week following the loss to the Bulldogs in 2007.
Fajardo has not started and finished a Wolf Pack victory since beating Texas State on Sept. 29.
“We expected a good game but we didn’t make it a good game
The Wolf Pack will close out their regular season (they became bowl eligible with their sixth victory on Oct. 13 at UNLV) with games at New Mexico on Saturday and against Boise State at home on Dec. 1.
“We have to find a way to reach down inside and play better,” Ault said.