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December 23, 2013

Season still an impressive one for Bulldogs

As the clock wound down to zero and the USC Trojans began to celebrate, Bulldog senior linebacker Patrick Su'a began crying uncontrollably. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Su'a dropped to the ground where his teammates gathered around him and began consoling him. Coaches came over to Su'a in the hopes that they could ameliorate some of his pain, but the warrior had to let out the pain and frustration of the day's events.

It was only fitting that Su'a was immediately surrounded by his teammates and loved ones. Though the Bulldogs failed in their bid for a 12-win season, they had played as a team, a unit, and a family. They had tested the limits of Fresno State's success and nobody on that field was going to allow their teammates to feel anything less than proud about their effort.

Head coach Tim DeRuyter took nothing away from his guys, but acknowledged that USC came prepared and it was just too much for the Bulldogs on this day.

"I think we were beaten by a better team today," DeRuyter said. "I think if we would have played our best game, it may have been a different outcome, but today clearly they were the better team. We didn't play our best game today and that goes on me. I gotta do a better job of getting our guys ready."

In true leadership fashion, Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr refused to allow his coach to accept the blame.

"Blame me," Carr said. "Blame me always. Don't blame anybody else. I gotta do a better job of leading and I gotta do a better job of getting our guys in better spots. That's my fault. I felt we were prepared. I thought the coaches did a great job with the practices, the curfews - all those things.

"I thought our guys were ready to go. There wasn't any lack of focus on any side of the ball during practice. USC just beat us."

Carr wasn't incorrect. Though the Bulldog offensive line did not allow a sack in the game, they were physically dominated up front and it showed in the passing game. Carr was rushed and pressured the whole day, forcing several bad overthrows and a costly red-zone interception that all but ended the Bulldogs' comeback bid in the second half.

The senior quarterback finished with 217 yards on a 30-of-54 passing day. Carr also had two touchdowns and an interception. The Bulldogs' longest drive of the entire game was a 67-yard drive that ended with Carr being intercepted by Trojan cornerback Josh Shaw in the endzone. The Bulldogs only possessed the ball for 18:33 of the game and had an average starting field position of their own 31.

The Trojans managed to hang onto the ball for more than 40 minutes of action. The Trojan defense also limited Fresno State to 2-of-14 on third down conversions and 1-of-3 during fourth down conversions. USC's offense did nearly the exact opposite of that, going 6-of-13 on third down conversions and 2-of-2 on fourth down tries.

A crowd of 42,178 gathered in Las Vegas to watch the Trojans and the Bulldogs square off, but USC never really allowed Fresno's offense to gain their usual rhythm. After trading touchdowns to start the game, USC jumped out to a 35-6 lead entering into halftime. Fresno State had only 139 yards at the half, USC had 314.

The second half featured better play by the Bulldogs, but it was far too late by then. A fact that was echoed after the game by DeRuyter.

"They played very, very well," DeRuyter said. "Early on we had a couple of opportunities on third down to get off the field, it could have changed the game and they converted. We did a better job in the second half, but we dug ourselves too big of a hole.

"We have a lot of respect for USC, they have really good players and they're very well coached. They played very inspired today. Physically, they were the most impressive team we've played in the last two years. They play inspired."

USC head coach Clay Helton knew slowing down Carr was going to be no easy task. Though they boasted the Pac-12 conference's best defense, the Trojans had shown themselves to be vulnerable in the passing game. Helton knew trench warfare would decide this game and he was right.

"They have a tremendous football team," Helton said. "We have a lot of respect for them. I was very nervous coming in about the amount of pressure they bring, especially when you have two backup offensive linemen playing. It was just an unbelievable job by the offensive line."

Shaw said the plan was to get physical with the Bulldog receivers and punish them at the line of scrimmage. He drew the duty of defending Fresno State's Davante Adams and was able to do a decent job of containing the damage Adams was able to cause. Adams finished the day with 74 receiving yards and just one score.

"Coach Pendergast is second to none," Shaw said. "It is a challenging position to play defensive back and playing Adams today was just another challenge. I face receivers like that every day in practice. I just wanted to be real physical with him and kind of mix it up with him."

And mixing it up is exactly what the Trojans were able to do on this day. The teams will face each other again when the 2014 season opens, but that was little consolation for the seniors in Vegas. It's something that DeRuyter addressed with his squad after the game.

"We talked in the locker room, I talked to all the seniors," DeRuyter said. "I told them I love them, I'm going to miss them, and that I was just extremely disappointed for them. This is not the way any of us wanted to finish this season.

"We thought this was a group that had really worked their tails off; that had earned the right to compete for a bowl game championship. It hurts when you invest that much and you still fall short. It's a bitter pill that you gotta swallow."

Fortunately it is also a pill that the Bulldogs can feed to USC when they travel to Los Angeles for the first game of the next season.

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the 2013 Fresno State Bulldog season.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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