The play that L.J. Jones made, giving the Fresno State Bulldogs their last touchdown and, as it turned out, winning points in a 42-37 victory at Hawaii was actually made on Tuesday or Thursday, maybe Wednesday.
But it was sometime before 6:15 remained in the third quarter Saturday, when the senior cornerback had put together down and distance, formation, tendencies and a few other things from watching hours of Hawaii tape, and knew what was coming. On a second-and-13 play, it was exactly what he thought — a dig route.
Hawaii ran it. Quarterback Ikaika Woolsey threw it. And Jones picked off the pass, returning it 56 yards for a touchdown that was the first of his career and first for the Bulldogs defense this season.
"It was just film study, making sure I knew what they were doing," Jones said. "I was looking at the down and distance and I saw how their formation was, how the receiver was lined up closer to the numbers, so I figured since the ball was on the other half (of the field) they only have one way to go, and that was inside. So I weaved and I read the dig and just jumped it and got the six, and I'm thankful for my blockers."
That is part of the game where Jones has grown since last year, along with the rest of the defense in the second year running the 3-4 schemes installed by coach Tim DeRuyter and defensive coordinator Nick Toth.
"There's no doubt," Toth said. "Derron (Smith), as football savvy as he is, his study has gotten awesome. The two inside linebackers have gotten much better, the D-line. We've still got some of the new guys, but we're coaching scheme so much less and we have to fix technique, but the scheme part of it is in. We aren't having to coach that as much. Our technique is still raw at times, but the film study has helped a lot.
"You start seeing the sacks, like (Ejiro) Ederaine had a couple sacks and one of them was because he knew what was going on with the protection because he had seen it like that and the other thing about that is they're understanding more.
"With L.J., it's a trust thing, too. Him trusting himself that he can do that and still play within the defense. I want those guys taking chances, and a guy that is that seasoned should be doing that."
The past two games, Jones had 11 tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage. He recovered a fumble and had two pass breakups against Boise State and four tackles with one for a loss and two interceptions at Hawaii, much of that production attributed to his preparation.
"I think that he's just stepping his game up. He's doing the little things right that we ask him to do," cornerbacks coach Jordan Peterson said. "Specifically, for a defensive back, your eyes always have to be right, and he's done a great job of fixing the little things and then on top of that I'd say he's stepped up his game when it comes to watching film."
The defense still is allowing too many big plays and has lost an edge in the second half of games against Cal Poly and at Hawaii, when leading by 38 and 39 points.
But, as Jones proved, the pieces aren't scattered wildly about and can come together. Fresno State has allowed 1,951 total yards and is ranked only 115th in the bowl subdivision in total defense, but of that total 959 has come on just 29 plays. The Bulldogs have allowed three plays of 60 or more yards, four of 50 or more yards, six of 30 or more yards and 15 of 20 or more yards.
"If I'm not in the film room here, I'm on my computer watching film and making sure I know what they like to do," he said. "I do that all day. It's the only thing I can think of right now — other than me and my teammates coming out here and preparing against our offense and getting in the weight room doing what I need to do — that's the only thing I can think of that will set me apart from everyone else."
Onward to Idaho
No. 23 FRESNO STATE AT IDAHO
Saturday: 2 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome
Records: Bulldogs 4-0, Vandals 1-3
Radio: KFIG-AM 940; KGST-AM 1600
Line: Bulldogs -26
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rkuwada on Twitter. Read his daily Fresno State updates at fresnobee.com/bulldogs