HONOLULU - Securing its 10th 10-win season in program history and picking up its first bowl win since 2007, the Fresno State Bulldogs defeated the Houston Cougars, 33-27 in the Hawai'i Bowl on Sunday evening at Aloha Stadium. "I can't say enough about this team and the coaching staff," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "To go from one win to 10 wins is a great accomplishment and these guys are such great kids, they've worked really hard and I'm so proud of the effort they gave all year. These guys deserve everything they're getting right now, because they did buy in and they worked really hard to get this done."
Only the second team in Football Bowl Subdivision history to go from a season with double-digit losses to a season with double-digit wins, the Bulldogs used a strong game offensively from junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion and the leg of senior kicker Jimmy Camacho.
McMaryion had a career-night, completing 33-of-48 through the air for 342 yards and added 50 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground on his way to Most Valuable Player honors. His 33 completions tied a Hawai'i Bowl record as he now shares that mark with former Bulldog gunslinger Derek Carr who also completed 33 passes in the 2012 Hawai'i Bowl. Junior wide receiver KeeSean Johnson led the Bulldogs' pass-catching corps with eight receptions for 95 yards while sophomore tight end Jared Rice added six catches for 84 yards. On the ground, Fresno State ran for 131 yards as sophomore running back Josh Hokit led the way with 64 yards on 11 carries.
Defensively, first-team All-Mountain West linebacker Jeffrey Allison led a stingy Bulldog defense with 13 tackles, eight solo, and added one tackle for loss. Sophomore safety Mike Bell made seven tackles, six solo, and junior linebacker George Helmuth added six solo tackles. Sophomore defensive backs Juju Hughes (fumble recovery) and Jaron Bryant (INT returned for a TD) accounted for the Bulldogs' two turnovers. The Fresno State defense held the Houston offense to 341 yards of total offense limiting the Cougars to 72 rushing yards.
How It Happened
A hard-fought first quarter saw Houston get on the scoreboard on its second offensive drive using a quick four-play, 63-yard drive that was highlighted by a 48-yard flea-flicker from Cougar quarterback D'Eriq King to Steven Dunbar that reached the Bulldog 1-yard line before being tripped up Juju Hughes. Using an unconventional backfield, Houston scored the game's first touchdown as Outland Trophy winner Ed Oliver scored on a 1-yard plunge on his first career carry.
Held to five yards and without a first down on its first four offensive drives of the game, the Bulldogs got the offense going late in the first quarter as McMaryion found Jamire Jordan for a 21-yard reception to get the offense off and running reaching the 2-yard line before the end of the first quarter. Gaining only one yard on three carries, a quarterback sneak by McMaryion on fourth down put points on the board for Fresno State to tie the game at 7-7.
A three-and-out by the Bulldog defense gave the offense the ball back at its own 30-yard line as the 'Dogs stayed hot offensively going on a nine-play, 60-yard drive that finished with a 27-yard field goal by Camacho. Leading 10-7, Houston responded with an eight-play, 69-yard drive that resulted in a 31-yard field goal by the Cougars' Caden Novikoff to tie the game at 10-10.
The first half ended with the 'Dogs third scoring drive of the game with a 10-play, 50-yard drive in 1:11 that was capped by a 38-yard field goal by Camacho as Fresno State headed into the locker room with a 13-10 lead. Leading at halftime for the 11th time this season, the 'Dogs started the third quarter with the ball, but a fumble by McMaryion gave the Cougars a short field as Houston went on a 10-play, 45-yard drive resulting in a 31-yard field goal by Novikoff tying the game at 13-13.
The Bulldogs responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was keyed by a 29-yard toss from McMaryion to Johnson on a third-and-5. McMaryion capped off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run to give the 'Dogs a 20-13 lead.
With the Bulldogs looking to make it a two-score game near the end of the third quarter, Camacho's 41-yard field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a 94-yard touchdown by the Cougars' Alexander Myres to knot the game at 20-20. Two more field goals early in the fourth quarter by Camacho extended the Bulldogs' lead to 26-20 as Houston started with the ball at its own 7-yard line with 5:55 remaining.
After moving 18 yards to their own 29-yard line, a pass on third-and-14 for the Cougars was deflected by Robert Stanley and intercepted by Jaron Bryant who returned the ball for a 44-yard touchdown to extend the Bulldogs' lead to 33-20 with 3:49 left in the game.
A late touchdown by Houston with 45 seconds remaining was of little consequences as the 'Dogs recovered an onside kick and got into victory formation to seal the 33-27 win.
• Fresno State won its 13th bowl game in program history, including its second in Hawai'i, joining the 1940 'Dogs who won the Pineapple Bowl.
• With the win, the 'Dogs completed an eight-game win improvement from last season as it is tied with four other programs for the second-best in NCAA history as it only trails the 8.5 win improvement by Hawai'i in 1999.
• Fresno State became the second program in the Football Bowl Subdivision to go from a season with double-digit losses to a season with double-digit wins, joining Miami (Ohio) in 2010.
• Tedford improved to 6-3 all-time in bowl games in his 12-year career as a FBS coach.
• Johnson caught a pass in his 36th straight game as he enters his senior season with 180 receptions (eighth in program history) for 2,123 yards (11th most).
• Camacho set the single-season program record for made field goals (23), set a new single-game Hawai'i Bowl record for field goals made (4) and finished the season with the second-most points in a season by a kicker with 115.
• McMaryion attempted a career high 48 passes. He completed a career-high 33 passes.
• McMaryion surpassed 300 yards for the second time this season (Boise State, Nov. 25).
• KeeSean Johnson eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the season. He is the first Bulldog since Josh Harper (2014) to do it and it's the 15th time in program history a 1,000-yard season was recorded by a Bulldog.