Derek Carr was just a boy in the stands of Bulldog Stadium on Friday, Oct. 19, 2001. He watched his brother David, and the rest of the Fresno State Bulldogs go down in defeat to upstart Boise State, 35-30. The loss effectively ended any hope of Fresno State becoming the first ever BCS crasher, and likely contributed to Carr finishing fifth in one of the more perplexing Heisman Trophy snubs of the last 15 years.
“As soon as Boise State beat my brother his senior year…I remember sitting there, crying in the stands,” Carr said during this summer’s Mountain West media day. “It didn’t matter who recruited me from that moment on…I wanted to go to Fresno State and make a difference.”
Make a difference he has. Carr has the Bulldogs on the cusp of the Top 25 in one poll and ranked in another, and in contention for not only a Mountain West Conference championship, but perhaps that BCS invitation that was spoiled 12 years ago as well. Individually, he’s registering eye-popping numbers — 661 yards and eight touchdowns through two games — and has Heisman buzz reminiscent of his brother.
For all Carr has accomplished in his time at Fresno State, one albatross has loomed over the program. The Bulldogs have simply been unable to defeat Boise State.
The tide turned that Friday night in 2001. Boise State boasts an 11-1 mark against the Bulldogs starting with that victory, the lone blemish coming in 2005. Last year’s 20-10 Bronco win was one of only two sub-par offensive performances Carr had last season — it was also the closest Fresno State has come to beating Boise State since that 2005 win.
Boise State’s dominance in the series is the undeniable, if not overexposed story line tonight. Carr said he worked to block out the rhetoric.
“Last year, I thought about [the losing streak],” Carr said during his weekly press conference. “I’m more mature now. I’m treating it like another game with this being my 30th start.”
Carr said he made the same statements a year ago, but didn’t actually believe it. He says he’s now “at peace” with the mindset of approaching Boise State as an opponent — nothing more, nothing less.
Seeing Chris Petersen’s program, an undisputed benchmark for non-BCS success, simply as an opponent is perhaps easier than it as a few years ago.
The Broncos have shown vulnerabilities recently that they hadn’t in the late 2000s and into 2011. Last year, BSU split the MWC championship with San Diego State and Fresno State. The Broncos opened this season in the program’s most lopsided loss in eight years. A week ago at home against Air Force, running back Jay Ajayi saved a sluggish start with three second half touchdowns.
A similar slow start against Fresno State’s high-tempo offense could spell doom for the Broncos.
Nevertheless, BSU is one of the most well-coached and methodically executing teams in college football. After facing a hurry-up, spread offense in Week 1, the Broncos have tangible results against which to craft their game plan. Washington’s version of the system wore down Boise State into the second half, not entirely because of the speed with which the Huskies played. Rather, because of the grinding halt to which the Dawg defense brought the Broncos.
Friday’s result may be less on the shoulders of Carr than his defense. Fresno State was among the nation’s worst defensive teams in 2011, including surrendering 57 points to Boise State. Last year’s 180-degree turnaround was the result of high turnover creation. The Bulldogs are -1 in turnover margin thus far into 2013, and gave up 51 points to Rutgers in Week 1.
A shootout similar to 2001 may be on the horizon. The lessons Carr took in as a member of that audience could be in play tonight, like stay on the accelerator. His brother’s Bulldogs failed to score any offensive points in the fourth quarter. Avoid turnovers. A late fumble did in Fresno State that night.
Or, perhaps the best takeaway of all for Derek Carr and his Fresno State teammates: leave the past behind and start a new future tonight.