The Fresno State football team isn’t No. 1-ranked Alabama good, it’s not even close, and no one ever suggested as much.
But if Saturday’s 41-10 loss to the Crimson Tide explained anything, it’s that these Bulldogs already are supremely better than last year’s 1-10 unnatural disaster, and the differences are staggering.
A Fresno State offense that could not score a point at Colorado State last November actually found the end zone against Alabama’s vaunted defense. And a Bulldogs defense, that saw the this-worldly likes of UNLV, Toledo and Tulsa drop 45-plus points on them last autumn, held Alabama’s offense to 13 points in the second half.
There are no such things as moral victories when multimillion-dollar budgets are at play, but there such things as demoralizing defeats – and this wasn’t one of them, no matter what the 43½-point betting line anticipated before kickoff.
“I like how we played in the second half,” first-year Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford said after dropping to 1-1 in his return to Fresno State. “It would have been easy to roll over and our guys played tough.”
Sure, playing hard should be the bare minimum, and is worthy of no medals, but to watch the past two seasons at Fresno State is to see improvement by leaps and bounds.
They say the game got out of hand, but we felt like we were always right there, just a couple of big plays away.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil on the Bulldogs’ effort against No. 1 Alabama
There was sophomore linebacker Jeffrey Allison, doubling his previous career best with a game-high 14 tackles.
There was an offensive line with every disadvantage in size, speed and pedigree, allowing but one quarterback sack, and that not until the fourth quarter of a long-decided game.
“I think we proved something today,” Allison said.
Twice, the defense forced field goals with goal-to-go stops inside the 10-yard line. Only once did this defense give up a TNT play, quarterback Jalen Hurts’ 55-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game for a 7-0 lead.
Fresno State was no threat to beat Alabama, but postgame comments show that the Bulldogs have moved beyond last season’s collective and perpetual shoulder slump of a mood.
“They’re a great team, No. 1 in the country, but I feel like we can play with anybody,” said quarterback Chason Virgil, whose 26-yard touchdown pass over the top to Derrion Grim topped a 21-for-34 day for 180 yards.
“They say the game got out of hand, but we felt like we were always right there, just a couple of big plays away. We just kept trying to get momentum on our side, and finish strong like we did with that touchdown at the end.
“To do that against a team like Alabama that’s known for great defense was good.”
154 rushing yards for Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who also ran for two touchdowns
To be clear, Fresno State was never a big play away from anything but their first loss of the Tedford regime, yet it shows that they have moved beyond last season’s collective and perpetual shoulder slump of a mood.
Yeah, it would have been nice if Virgil and his targets weren’t so off on third downs some of the time, but that is not why they lost. They lost because Alabama is bigger and better and better still, because of course they are.
There was no stopping an Alabama quarterback who ran 10 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns, often making the Bulldogs suffer when their pass coverage held up deep, only to watch Hurts run free over the undefended middle of the field.
Hurts completed 14 of 18 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, leaving Fresno State with no idea what he would do next.
Mostly, Hurts kept the lethargic Crimson Tide from nodding off from boredom in their home opener – Alabama coach Nick Saban is going to pull scholarships when he sees so many guys walking on and off the field between plays.
Alabama did enough to make sure the Bulldogs would not be upsetting the powers that be in college football on this given Saturday.
All Fresno State could do was say it wasn’t so bad half the time. Again, when propped against the backdrop of 2016, it’s the best consolation prize they’ve got going for the time being.
“The guys kept playing, especially in the second half,” Tedford said. “There were positives out there.”
FRESNO STATE AT WASHINGTON
- Saturday: 6:30 p.m. in Seattle
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1, Huskies 1-0 (faced Montana late)
- TV/radio: Pac-12 Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)