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September 11, 2013
There were many things that stood out in the Bulldogs' 41-25 victory over Cal Poly on Saturday. One man, however, perhaps stood out more than anyone else on that night. That man was Isaiah Burse, who electrified fans and teammates alike with his dazzling punt returns. Burse returned three punts for 130 yards and two scores. He also added another receiving touchdown on a 15-yard pass from quarterback Derek Carr to start the second quarter.
Great as Burse's returns were, he would prefer to give the credit to someone else.
"It was a good feeling, obviously," said Burse. "Especially coming away with the W. But I have to tip my hat to the return team, you know? They blocked their butts off for me and they made my job easier. I just gotta read those blocks and shoot it down the middle. So, I gotta tip my hat to them."
Burse returned his first punt 61-yards for a score as the first quarter was winding down. He then added a 58-yard return for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. Making Burse's return more impressive was the fact that the Bulldogs had a blocked called for the first return, which meant nobody was downfield blocking. Undeterred, Burse found a seam and delivered it to the house, never once worried about what could possibly go wrong.
"I was just playing football," Burse said. "Obviously, I knew it was a block called, so it could have been a possible fair catch. But the punter gave me a good punt, you know? He kicked it pretty far and I had space. So, it's like, some yards are better than no yards. So I caught it, just tried to make something happen, and it worked out. I ended up scoring. A couple of guys peeled back and made some key blocks for me, and I was able to get into the endzone."
When asked about his receiver's performance, Coach Tim DeRuyter called Burse a difference-maker for the Bulldogs. Adding that he felt confident in his special teams because of coaching and the players.
"Well, what can you say?, DeRuyter said. "He was a difference maker, obviously, for us tonight. The first punt return he had, we had a block called. So, we weren't even really setting up a wall. We were going after a block. We've got a few guys that peel back out to block form, but he basically made that happen on his own. Then once guys missed the block, they got the kickoff, we tried to peel back around. We have some guys that stayed in some blocks there at the end, but IB made that happen pretty much on his own.
"The second one, right before the end of the half there, we were about maybe going block because they were backed up. But Coach [Pete] Germano, I thought, made a great call. He's doing a great job coaching those guys, effort-wise. Between him and Dave Brown, they had a bunch of guys sustain blocks and IB makes a couple guys miss and took it to the house. I like the ball in his hands. With space, he can do some special things with it."
While he continues to be amazed by Burse's abilities, Carr joking said that his returns can be frustrating for the Bulldogs' leader on offense.
"I get mad at him when he runs them back for touchdowns because I wanna get on the field," Carr said. "He's so dynamic, like the one touchdown. We had a block called, which means there's no one blocking and he still got the ball, ran around everywhere, and scored the touchdown. I mean, that's freaky kind of stuff. He's a freaky athlete. And that's stuff we know he can do, but I'm glad that he plays wide receiver and not corner because I love throwing to him."
Bulldog middle-linebacker Karl Mickelsen said that Burse's big night provided fuel for the defense to play as well as they did.
"When any of our teammates have success, we all get hyped and we support one another," Mickelsen said. "So when someone has a great play like that, we all get excited. And it gives us another chance for the defense to get on the field and keep on playing."
Burse noted that he was exhausted after the returns, but being in the moment was more than enough fuel to sustain him for the remainder of the game.
"Definitely. I was tired," Burse said. "But, I mean, emotions are the game. You don't even think about it. You're just so happy that you scored, made a play, and the fans are yelling and stuff. But you don't really think about that kind of stuff."
Burse also added that the first return energized the team as a whole.
"Obviously you get a lot more confidence," Burse said. "Not just me, but it also gives the other guys on the punt return team more confidence. Like, let's get another one. They wanted to get a third one. Just having that type of mindset makes things a lot easier. You want all your guys on the same page and it's just a good deal."
While Burse remains one of the most electrifying returners in the nation, he says that he prefers returning punts to returning kicks. He said there's a subtle art to returning punts that just isn't there in returning kicks.
"Well, obviously they both have designed plays, but punt-returning is more freestyle," Burse said. "You just run around and guys peel back and get blocks for you. Where kick-returning is, 'this is how it's gonna be blocked.' You set it up and run straight there. You run straight through that hole or this and that. Punt-returning is more freestyle and I would say I'm more of a freestyle type of player. So I like punt return."
Burse had had 338 all-purpose yards in the first two games of the season. Burse is only 158 yards away from 5,000 all-purpose yards for his career. He is only 986 yards behind the Fresno State's all-time leader in all-purpose yards, Bernard Berrian.
Averaging 16.7 yards every time he touches the ball, Burse is easily one of Fresno State's biggest impact players. Despite all of this, Burse had yet to take one back since high school. The fact that he hadn't yet taken one back yet was on his mind, but it wasn't something he was going to try and force. For Burse, patience and the blocking up-front were the biggest reasons for his big game.
"Yeah, of course," Burse said when asked if he had been itching to return one. "I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. To come out and get two, that was a big deal for me. Like I said, it's the blocking, man. They make my job easier. I just run and it's not that hard when you only have the punter to beat."
Burse was named the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts last week. The Bulldogs travel to Colorado this week to take on the Buffaloes. The Bulldogs trail the all-time series 2-4, but handed Colorado a crushing 69-14 defeat in 2012 at Fresno.
Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the Fresno State Bulldogs.
Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.
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