Thursday, September 29, 2005

Toledo Game Recap: Special Teams and Defense Shine

Photo (AP)


There is not much to complain about Fresno State's 44-14 win Tuesday night over Toledo. The Rockets were without Heisman candidate Bruce Gradkowski, but it would have not made a difference in the outcome.

Fresno State started slow, and Toledo took advantage early on in the first quarter. The Rockets marched down the field into Bulldog territory on their first possession, but were knocked out of field goal range by an Ikenna Ike sack. Plays like that were missing in the loss at Oregon; the Bulldogs totaled four sacks for the game.

After Fresno State went three and out for the second straight time, Toledo drove for a touchdown, and had a 7-0 lead after its second possession. Gradkowski's absence did not seem to be making a difference in the Rockets offense in the first quarter.

Pat Hill pulled his team aside during the media timeout after the Rocket touchdown. He gave his players a good pep talk. Following the timeout, Adam Jennings returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the Bulldog's 47 yard line.

Fresno State then drove 53 yards for the touchdown, a one yard pass to Paul Williams on the first play of the second quarter. Bryson Sumlin took over running back duties from starter Wendell Mathis and carried the ball seven times for 41 yards on the drive. It seemed to be the difference maker, or at least that is what ESPN analyst Craig James kept saying as the Bulldogs started to take control of the game.

Fresno State would force the Rockets to punt on their next possession and took possession at their own 18. The Bulldogs then embarked on their longest drive of the game, nine plays 82 yards, for their second touchdown. Sumlin again highlighted this drive with two catches for 41 yards, including the 20 yard touchdown reception. The rout was on.

Fresno State's offense did not have to do much after this point of the game. The Fresno State defense would score a touchdown on a Tyrone Culver fumble return and Richard Marshall would recover another fumble for the Bulldogs with 4:21 left in the half at the Toledo 34.

Mathis capped the 34 yard drive with a one yard touchdown plunge with :25 left before halftime. Fresno State took a 27-7 lead at the half.

Clint Cochran made his first career start, but Toledo's failures were not his fault. Cochran did not line up on the special team units that gave up huge return yards over and over to Jennings or allowed an unblocked Ricky Miller to block a punt inside the five yard line. Cochran did not commit a fumble, and only threw one interception the entire game.

Fresno State made the correct adjustments after Toledo scored in the first quarter. Fresno State was able to pressure Cochran, and the late arriving Bulldog crowd was a huge factor in the second and third quarters, causing numerous procedure penalties and forcing the Rockets to use their timeouts.

Cochran's inexperience may have led to Toledo's conservative play calling, but a lot had to do with Fresno State playing good defense and not allowing Toledo to use their passing game effectively. The Bulldogs did give up 92 yards on the ground to Trinity Dawson, but stopped the run when they needed to. It is still a mystery if Fresno State would have been prepared for the no huddle offense on Tuesday. Without the services of Gradkowski, Toledo did use the no huddle that much at all.

After it was all said and done, Cochran did not play all that bad. Gradkowski probably would have avoided the pass rush better, and would have released the ball sooner than Cochran, but there were some rookie mistakes, too. Like Cochran crossing the line of scrimmage to complete a pass. Penalties also killed the Rockets Tuesday night. Every time Toledo started to gain some confidence, they were penalized.

It would have not mattered if Toledo was at full strength and there were no costly penalties. Fresno State dominated the Rockets in every phase of the game, except total yards, but for those who watched the game, there was no denying who the better team was.

The Bulldogs have an eleven day gap before the conference opener at New Mexico State on October 8. Fresno State has had insurmountable trouble winning games in October under Pat Hill.

The Bulldogs last played NMSU in 1991, a 42-28 Fresno State win. There is no reason for Fresno State not to blow out its next five opponents, including the four in October.

Fresno State is unbelievably strong on both sides of the ball, and the special teams are among the best in the nation.

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