Cornerback Curtis Riley was a hit in fall camp, working his way up to the No. 1 defense in just a few days despite having no prior experience in the Fresno State defense, and the thought that he could struggle a bit once the season started wasn't really part of the equation.
"We probably assumed too many things for him -- he's got a lot of talent," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "When you come out to the practice field where if somebody runs by you, there are no officials to put their arms up in a score, he competed very well because he didn't allow his mind to hold him back.
"You go out on the field when the lights are on and the scoreboard is on and you give up a play, now maybe you can start second-guessing yourself."
Riley, DeRuyter said, did that a bit through the Bulldogs' first four games, victories over Rutgers in overtime, Cal Poly, Boise State and last week at Hawaii, and something he has to get past.
But the junior college transfer closed a bit in the win over the Rainbow Warriors while still learning the nuances of the Fresno State defense and all of the adjustments he has to make play to play, and continues to work toward a comfort level playing his first football in more than two years.
"It's not difficult at all," said Riley, who spent one year at Mars Hill College in Asheville, N.C., then sat out a year before enrolling at Fullerton College, where last season he practiced but did not play.
"It's basically playing your technique and getting your eyes right and then trusting the coaches' call, and just going out there and playing, The thing I really need to keep working on is my eyes and competing, trying to make more plays out there."
At Idaho, Riley and the Bulldogs' defense figure to get another test. Fresno State is ranked last in the bowl subdivision in passing defense, allowing 8.3 yards per play and 332.5 yards per game, and the Vandals' quarterbacks have completed 65% of their passes for 7.4 yards per play and 234.0 yards per game and ranks 63rd in passing offense.
"I think he'll get better each week," DeRuyter said. "He got better last week, but he still has some technique and leverage work to do. He's got to get out there. He's going to get beat some times and he's got to bounce back from it. And he's got to make plays and gain confidence.
"It's just a process. It's going to take toward the end of the season where he's feeling really good, but it just takes reps to get there."