SAN DIEGO — L.J. Jones, a Fresno State starting senior cornerback, went down and out with a left knee injury in the first half Saturday night and for one night, the Bulldogs were able to survive and advance.
They kept intact for another week their undefeated season and dreams of the first big-time bowl game in school history with a 35-28 overtime victory over San Diego State.
But going forward the Bulldogs, already thin at the corner positions, could have to adjust what they do defensively if they are without Jones, who Monday will have an MRI and could be lost for the season.
Fresno State finished the game with Curtis Riley and Jamal Ellis at the corners -- one a JC transfer who now has seven games under him and the other a redshirt freshman who has played sparingly.
Ideally, coach Tim DeRuyter said, they get up to speed and the Bulldogs keep going without having to make any schematic changes.
But neither is at the speed to match Jones, who going into the victory over the Aztecs was tied for third on the team with 35 tackles, had two interceptions and a team-high six pass breakups, ranking second in the Mountain West and 22nd in the nation in passes defended.
"What we have to do is do a good job teaching them their fundamentals so they can rely on it so that they don't question their ability, and then you have to go out there and actually do it," DeRuyter said. "That's the deal with it. You have to not just know it you have to experience it. We're going to be getting them a bunch of experience in the next couple weeks so that they feel comfortable.
"I'd like to be able to just get them up to speed, but obviously you get into a situation where you may have to change things schematically and we'll do that."
The Bulldogs made some coverage changes after Jones went out, and the defensive staff will start looking at where they are Sunday, when they get into game prep for Nevada, which has dropped three games in a row with a loss Saturday to UNLV.
Riley has continued to improve after a rough start, and defensive coordinator Nick Toth liked the way Ellis went after the first extended playing time of his career.
"I'll tell you what, I saw him compete tonight," Toth said. "We haven't seen him compete like that. I don't know if he played good or bad, I haven't seen the tape, but the look in his eye, he was going to go now. And I was worried about that because he hasn't been tested like that. All the other stuff, we'll get them right. The sucker was going to go out there and he was going to throw it around when the fat was in the fire. If you can do that, we're going to be fine.
"The next guy has got to play. I miss those guys, the guys that get hurt. They all invest so much, so to have someone get injured, we don't know how serious it is yet, but that's why you practice. You have to have another guy ready to go and we just have to get them better. Those guys that are going to be on the field, we have to get them better and have faith in them.
'You have to trust the kids. It doesn't matter who is out there. Jamal Ellis, all of them. You have to trust them. They work their butts off. We'll figure out how to make the scheme work around them. We'll be all right."
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rkuwada on Twitter.