For much of Fresno State's season-opening overtime victory over Rutgers, the Bulldogs were taking what the Scarlet Knights' defense was giving them — quick pass to Davante Adams, quick pass to Josh Harper, bubble screen to Isaiah Burse, and those passes to the perimeter were going for 6, 7, 8 yards a pop.
All three receivers set career-highs for receptions — 14, 14 and 13, 41 in all, and there were only three other bowl subdivision teams that completed as many passes the opening week of the season.
But the Bulldogs might not have been taking full advantage of having Adams, Harper or Burse and a blocker two-on-one or two-on-two with defenders on the edge, where all three have proven they can excel. There were some blocking issues that might have cost the Bulldogs some yards after the catch, which they are trying to clean up.
"We've got to get better," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "At times we did decent, but we've got to be more physical. As the game went on, as they tired, I think we did a better job. But early on, physically, I thought they won more battles than we won and we have to get that reversed.
"They were playing a safety at 18 or 20 yards deep, so if you make that first guy miss there's going to be another guy miss and the posse is going to be coming. But there were too many times early where the guy was beating a block and making a play, and that can't happen."
The Bulldogs see that bubble-bullet passing game as an extension of their wide run game, and at the pace they run their offense they can wear down defensive linemen and linebackers sprinting to the numbers. But with a well-executed block, they also could be gone before those defenders get into the picture, which is why the Bulldogs have worked it in practice, competitive drills this week in full pads.
"I thought we did pretty good, but we could always do better," said Ron Antoine, the receivers coach. "We've got some things on film, some things we did better toward the end of last year that we've got on film, that we'll get better at. We showed it to them and said, 'You see what we're saying about attacking this way and getting back and getting up the field.'
"I think you'll see us do better this game and continue to get better. I always think we can be more physical. Recognizing the defense quicker — a couple of times we got beat and it was just because we didn't recognize the defense and it was the defense we had just blocked two plays before. It's one of those things — focus, pay attention, do your assignments. But for the most part, I'll tell you what, we did get a lot of yardage on it and we were successful with it. It should help our running game, with those linebackers flying out of the box and trying to defend against the receivers catching the ball quick."
Fresno State ran 96 plays from scrimmage against Rutgers, third highest in the bowl subdivision behind Cal and San Diego State, which each ran 99 in losing efforts, and 10 more than the Bulldogs' season high in 2012.
DeRuyter on the tempo: "I think at times we slowed down. But when we went fast in that second half I thought it really helped and I liked our tempo in the second half. I think the first drive we went fast and then we had some drives where we were a little slower."
The verdict is in: white helmets, red jerseys and white pants.
That is what the Bulldogs will be wearing Saturday, and that there was a discussion much less a vote of team captains on this subject is both a surprise and a sign of progress for a program that just last year was practicing in jerseys that were who knows how old.
"Really, I never even thought about that. I never thought it would come to this," said Burse, who was selected as a game captain this week and made the selections along with end Andy Jennings, safety Derron Smith and quarterback Derek Carr.
"I wish it was pretty much old-fashioned, forget about the uniforms and just go out and play ball and win ball games, but it's nice. It's nice to have that finally. I think we're handling it well. We're not letting this new uniform thing get to our heads — we're still playing hard, going out and executing and winning ball games. But it's pretty cool ... I can't lie. It's nice to have."
-- Carr goes into the Cal Poly game just two touchdown passes away from becoming the third Fresno State quarterback with 70 in a career. Paul Pinegar is the career record holder with 94, and David Carr is second with 70. The younger Carr passed the older Carr on the career passing yards list in the victory over Rutgers, moving into third place with 8,216 yards. David Carr drops back to fifth with 7,849.
-- Former Bulldogs quarterback, NFL veteran and Clovis West High grad Billy Volek will be the honorary captain this week.
-- The Bulldogs practiced in full pads for a third day this week — they usually are in full pads only twice — and continued to get in a lot of work against the cut blocks they will see from Cal Poly. "They do a great job of getting people on the ground and when you're only practicing in pads twice a week, it's hard to get all those reps in,'' DeRuyter said. "Hopefully, it will be enough."
Ag Fest Game
FRESNO STATE VS. CAL POLY
Vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium
Records: Bulldogs 1-0; Mustangs 1-0
TV: ESPN3, streaming video online (apps also available)
Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
Of note: The two teams last met in 2010, with the Bulldogs winning 38-17 ... Cal Poly rolled past San Diego 38-16 in its opener ... The Mustangs rushed for 307 yards and five TDs.