2003 Football Season in Review
In a season packed with bowl-worthy opponents and Fresno State's typical grueling road schedule, the Bulldogs traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., to face a crowd of nearly 104,000 and the No. 12 ranked Volunteers in their season opener. The Vols controlled all aspects of the game, holding Fresno State to just 117 yards in total offense, the first time in five years that the team has been held to less than 200 yards on offense. Fresno State senior running back, Rodney Davis had a tough game, carrying the ball 13 times for a meager 16 yards. The Bulldogs' only bright spot came when cornerback Richard Marshall picked off a pass thrown by Vols quarterback Casey Clauson, taking it 81 yards to the house for the Fresno State's lone touchdown. Tennessee racked up an impressive 433 yards on offense, contributing to an eventual 24-6 loss.
Fresno State returned to familiar territory the following week, hosting a very talented and physical Oregon State team in the first home game of the season. The Bulldogs had previously upset the then-No. 10 ranked Beavers in 2001 in a thrilling game at Bulldog Stadium, and Oregon State returned the favor last year in Corvallis. While the two previous contests were blowouts, this was much different. Fresno State relied primarily on a fourth quarter drive with less than three minutes left. After a string of passes by backup quarterback Jeff Grady, the Bulldogs found themselves on the Beavers 30 to set up a field goal by kicker Brett Visintainer, his third on the night. With 31 seconds remaining Visintainer, who had missed a 46-yarder in the second quarter, kicked a game-winning field goal to secure the 16-14 victory.
After an exhilarating win at home, the Bulldogs headed east to face their biggest uphill battle of the year - the No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. Flawless play by Oklahoma allowed them to turn their first 6 possessions into points, giving OU a 38-0 lead at halftime. Sooners QB Jason White threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, while Renaldo Works ran in two more touchdowns for a total of 18 carries and 88 yards on the day. The Bulldogs shot themselves in the foot and managed to tally 80 yards in penalties and only 43 offensive yards in the first half. Nevertheless, there were a few key accomplishments for Fresno State, thanks to a fantastic performance on special teams. The Bulldogs managed to block an extra point and two punts in the Fresno States first-ever game against a No. 1-ranked team.
Following a tough loss to Oklahoma, Fresno State, now 1-2 on the year, regrouped and geared up for the WAC opener against Louisiana Tech at Bulldog Stadium. Relentless defense and the dynamic performance of Dwayne Wright proved to be key in the 16-6 Bulldog victory. La Tech was kept from scoring any touchdowns, even though they dominated the first half with a six-point lead going into halftime. Wright came up big late in the third quarter on a seven-yard TD run to give the Dogs a 10-6 lead. The final score was also run in by Wright, who rushed for a career-high 177 yards on 25 carries on the night.
Fresno State enjoyed the second of back-to-back weekends at home, hosting Division 1-AA Portland State. The first play set the tone for the rest of the game when a quirky fumble return on the opening kickoff left Portland State confused and flat-footed while Nathan Ray ran 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. With six minutes left in the first half, Marque Davis blocked Fresno States fifth punt of the year to set up Bryson Sumlin's 26-yard touchdown for a 14-0 lead. The Bulldogs established their running game in the second half with the help of Wright, who finished the game with 113 yards and a touchdown. In the final quarter with Fresno State leading only 21-9, Fresno State was relentless, scoring three more touchdowns to seal the deal 42-16.
Fresno State was not so lucky the following weekend when they made a trip to Fort Collins, Colo., to face Colorado State. The Rams, who entered with a two-game losing streak, held the momentum throughout the game by scoring on five straight possessions. Rams Quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt passed for 197 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for an impressive 154 yards. Fresno State scored their one and only touchdown in the final minutes of the third quarter on a 57-yard lateral pass to wide receiver Bernard Berrian in a discouraging 34-10 loss.
Things didn't get much better the following week. Fresno State's five-game WAC winning streak came to an abrupt end at Hawaii when the Bulldogs were unable to stop Hawaii's run and shoot offense. Quarterback Timmy Chang wound up throwing for 353 yards and five touchdowns, and the Warriors took control in the second quarter and led 38-14 at halftime. With a 30-point lead and less than five minutes remaining, the Warriors scored yet again on a 43-yard punt fake, leaving the Bulldogs with a 55-28 and an 0-4 record on the road
Following an off week, Fresno State returned to Bulldog Stadium to face a Rice team that entered with just one win. But Rice's rushing game was top notch in the game, largely in part to Robbie Beck's four touchdowns. The Owls rushed for a season-high total of 384 yards, the most Fresno State had allowed to this point, and tallied a season-high 418 yards in total offense. Fresno State hung in, however, and dominated the fourth quarter with a couple key plays, including a fumble recovery and a 67-yard drive to set up an eventual two-point conversion. With only 4:33 remaining, Fresno State tied the contest at 28-28. The Bulldogs' then defense came up with a crucial stop after keeping the Owls from converting on a 4th-and-1 in Fresno State territory. The Bulldogs got the ball back with only 1:46 to play and were led downfield by Paul Pinegar, who completed several pressure passes to get the team into field goal range. And for the second time this year, it was Visintainer who came through, drilling a kick through the uprights, clinching a 31-28 victory that was Pat Hill's 50th career win.
Next, the Bulldogs picked up their first road win of the season when they traveled to face winless SMU. Fresno State was stellar on defense, racking up nine sacks and holding SMU to less than 300 yards of total offense. Despite a shaky first half and a solid performance by Mustangs RB Keylon Kincade, the Bulldogs prevailed 20-11, improving their record to 5-4 (3-1 WAC).
November is always a successful time of year for Fresno State, and Hill's charges appeared prepared for another late-season run heading into a crucial contest at Nevada. The Bulldogs announced their presence with authority immediately, scoring a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this year. By the end of the first quarter, Fresno State had a commanding 21-0 lead and never looked back, handing the Wolf Pack a debilitating 27-10 loss that took Nevada out of the bowl picture and placed the Bulldogs, now 6-4 (4-1 WAC) on the doorstep of the Silicon Valley Football Classic.
November continued when Fresno State returned home to face rival San Jose State. Bernard Berrian and Adam Jennings each scored two TD's, with Berrian scoring on an 8-yard run and a 1-yard TD pass, as the Bulldogs walked away with a 41-7 victory. Fresno State was at the top of its rushing game, tallying a season-high 311 yards as a team. They also registered a convincing 508 yards of total offense, a season high. Dwayne Wright rushed for 106 of those yards on 15 carries. A Fresno State team that was written off following the Hawaii game was suddenly 7-4 (5-1 WAC) heading into the biggest game of the year the following week against nationally-ranked Boise State.
Unfortunately, what advantage the Bulldogs had at home ran out against the Broncos in the home finale. BSU, undefeated in conference play the past two years, brought the heat to the Valley and a dizzying offensive threat in quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie, who passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Paul Pinegar went 28-of-51 for 290 yards, but an interception early in the second quarter gave the Broncos a lead they would never relinquish. Bernard Berrian ran untouched for a score with 8:28 to play and returned a 68-yard punt for a TD, but a few bright spots were not enough to keep the Broncos from pounding out a 31-17 win.
The Bulldogs traveled to El Paso to face UTEP with the hopes that the previous week's loss was behind them. Trailing 20-10 late in the fist half it looked like history was about to repeat itself. Despite two interceptions, quarterback Paul Pinegar threw for an impressive 325 yards and two touchdowns and helped guide Fresno State to a come-from-behind 23-20 victory. Marque Davis was on the receiving end of six passes, tallying 121 yards. Once again, Brett Visintainer came up big, sealing the victory with a timely 24-yard field goal with only 9:37 left to play.
The capper to the season was an invitation to play UCLA in the Silicon Valley Football Classic, the school's unprecendented fifth consecutive berth in a bowl game. And it was to be special, for the Bulldogs had never played the Bruins outside of Los Angeles.
Scores of Fresno State fans piled into Spartan Stadium to watch what would be one of the sweetest victories of the Pat Hill Era. Fresno State's offense dominated early and turned it over to the defense in a 17-9 victory that was the team's seventh over a BCS Conference team since 1999. Rodney Davis once again proved he is Mr. Silicon Valley Football Classic, shrugging off a sub-par year by winning the game's Offensive MVP honors. Bryson Sumlin scored two touchdowns, more than enough for a defense that allowed only 164 yards of total offense.