What We Learned in Hawaii
In 2006 Hawaii came into Fresno and jumped out to a 28-7 lead before Bulldog fans could get comfortable. We all remember what Hawaii did from that point on as Colt Brennan tore Fresno apart en route to a 68-37 victory. The Bulldogs defense never seemed to get on track in that game and everyone in the stadium knew as soon as Fresno State fell behind by two touchdowns the game was over. The 2006 Bulldogs lacked heart. The 2006 Bulldogs lacked toughness on the football field. The 2006 Bulldogs did not have the talent to come back from a deficit of any margin. Saturday in Hawaii Fresno State once again fell behind by 21 points to the Warriors in the first quarter. It looked as if the Bulldogs would be blown out of Aloha stadium once again as trips to the island have never gone well for Fresno State. But something happened when the Warriors put their third touchdown on the scoreboard nine minutes into the game. Fresno State decided this game was not going to get out of hand. A.J. Jefferson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7. It was the second week in a row that Jefferson had done so on a kickoff return. Right before halftime Fresno State drove down field getting into the end zone to cut the lead to 31-16. While many of us felt good about what the Bulldogs did in the second quarter that would be nothing compared to what they did to Hawaii in the second half.
After numerous blown opportunities to close the gap Fresno State finally made a play we have not seen since the San Jose State game. Hawaii had the lead at 34-16 and Brennan was driving the Warriors for the killing score in the third quarter. Brennan fired a bullet over the middle that looked to be in stride with his receiver. The score would have been 41-16 and all but out of reach for Fresno State until Marcus Riley made what looked to be one of the most athletic interceptions ever at Fresno State. Many people probably do not realize how important that play was for Fresno State. The Bulldogs kept Hawaii out of the end zone the entire second half only allowing the Warriors three points. Fresno State was able to fight back and close the gap with one minute remaining in the game as they were down 37-30. Unfortunately the onside kick did not bounce Fresno State's way and they once again left Aloha stadium with a back breaking loss. Where Fresno State goes from here will be important to the future of this program. Fresno State has a bye week coming up followed by games against two opponents they can beat. If Fresno State can knock off Kansas State and New Mexico State they will finish 8-4 headed to a bowl game once again. I am holding out hopes that we can replace the Pac-10 in a bowl game somwhere on the West Coast here (Emerald or Las Vegas bowl) but any bowl is better than no bowl.
I realize that we have gone down the "This team is getting better" route thousands of times. This time around Fresno State has to move on and make that jump. The school cannot degress anymore. Fresno State in 2001 made a jump to a level many of us were not expecting. Today we know the talent on this team is there to become an elite team not only in the WAC but in the nation. Whether the Bulldogs do this or not truly falls on the shoulders of our coaching staff. J-Mac has given this team a life on offense we have not seen in many years. However, one improvement the Dogs are going to have to make is at the QB position. I do not mean they need to replace TB but instead they need to allow him to throw the ball much earlier in the game. He may not be 100% accurate but he has shown of late he can throw the ball when given the oportunity. Against Hawaii he finished 15-26 and had three balls thrown perfectly that were dropped. You can make the argument that he missed some throws so they cancel out, but I cannot recall many missed throws in the Hawaii game. His last two halfs where he was given the opportunity to throw the ball look like this: 22-33 5td's no int's. Those stats consist of Brandstater's first half against Utah State and his second half against Hawaii. In other words maybe Tom is ready to throw the ball more than the Bulldogs coaching staff is allowing him to do.
Losses hurt regardless of who they are against. Sometimes you can look at a loss as a turning point for a team while other times losses should just be forgotten as they hurt the program more than they will ever help the program. Fresno State must make Hawaii a turning point. The Dogs went into a hostile environment with ridiculous fans and should have left Aloha stadium with a win. They played defense when they had to and their offense made a comeback that many of us fans did not know was possible. The Bulldogs were down 37-16 and pulled within one TD. If they do not fumble on the opening drive in the second half who knows what happens in this game. As I said before this game must be used as a turning point for this team. Marcus Riley and the rest of the seniors have one home game left. They deserve our support when the Dogs take on Kansas State. I hope that the rest of the Bulldog fans feel as strongly as I do about this team and will be there two weeks from now when the Bulldogs knock off Kansas State. It would only be fair to those on this football team that have given their all for the valley and every fan in this city.