The mission for Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr was clear heading into Thursday night’s season opener against Rutgers: register impressive numbers and win, otherwise say goodbye to the burgeoning Heisman Trophy campaign before it begins.
No sweat, eh? Carr had no trouble with the former. The Fresno State senior passed a staggering 73 times, 52 of which were completions totaling 457 yards. Another five went for touchdowns, including the eventual game winner in overtime.
Carr also rushed three times for 29 yards. Seventeen came on a fourth down-and-three conversion attempt.
Derek Carr essentially did everything in his power to see his team to a 52-51 victory. Had his team’s defense not stymied a two-point conversion in overtime, or if Rutgers placekicker Kyle Federico had not missed a 42-yard field goal in the waning seconds, would it have made Carr’s performance any less spectacular?
The answer to this rhetorical question should obviously be no. Alas, Carr’s Heisman candidacy rests on a very strict set of guidelines not in place for his BCS conference counterparts. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova’s ability to exploit holes in the Fresno State secondary and linebacker corps nearly breached one of the cardinal tenets of a non-AQ Heisman hopefuls.
The fourth of Nova’s five touchdown passes was a back shoulder lob that receiver Leonte Carroo hauled in with a highlight reel toe-drag. Just 90 seconds remained. Had the score held then at 45-38, the result of Fresno State’s defensive struggles, Carr may have been sunk.
But Carr returned to the field to do what we ask of our Heisman candidates. He calmly led the Bulldogs 40 yards to the end zone in 33 seconds, finding Josh Harper to force overtime.
His final touchdown strike came with the same almost effortless efficiency. Bryant-Jon Anteola of The Fresno Bee provided insight into why Carr’s performance was so silky smooth:
#FresnoState QB Derek Carr: “It was the most fun game. But I was at peace the whole time. Never once did I thought we were going to lose.”
— Bryant-Jon Anteola (@Banteola_TheBee) August 30, 2013
Supreme confidence manifested in eye-popping statistics, all against a team ranked fourth overall in scoring defense a season ago.
RU is undergoing transition on that side of the ball, having lost seven starters including All-American linebacker Khaseem Greene. But then, Fresno State was taking the field without dynamic running back Robbie Rouse for the first time since 2008. And just imagine Carr’s passing attack if, in addition to Harper, Isaiah Burse and Davante Adams, he was also throwing to Jalen Saunders?
Perhaps the parameters for a non-AQ Heisman campaign are imbalanced. More importantly, Thursday’s win was just one step in 11 for the Bulldogs. But on one of the most prominent stages on which he will play this place, Carr shined as only the best in the game can.
One person unconcerned about the Heisman chances of Derek Carr is Derek Carr, who told me at Mountain West Conference media day that claiming the award would make for a great story to tell his newly born son. Otherwise, Carr is concerned with leading Fresno State to wins.