Fresno State again allowed a large number of explosive plays in its overtime victory at San Diego State, giving up pass plays of 60, 44, 30, 23 and 21 yards and a run play of 27. The number is now up to 42 plays of 20 or more yards on the season, which ranks in a tie for 99th in the bowl subdivision.
Then there is this: The Aztecs faced a third-and-10 or more fives times in the game, including a third-and-17 and a third-and-18, and on all five were able to make a play that netted a first down.
At the root of it is tackling, an area the Bulldogs have had issues with in the past. Thin at a number of positions, they do not do any live tackling during the week in practice.
"There's that balance between getting a team ready and getting a team hurt," coach Tim DeRuyter says.
But they will be emphasizing proper technique, which was lacking against the Aztecs.
"We didn't finish some of those tackles that we should have," DeRuyter said. "Part of it, as you look at the tape, there's a pile and the primary guy that's making the tackle, someone is down at his legs and he's getting pushed back and tripped. There are those things you don't really see, but, again, we have to do a much better job of getting our pads lower and getting more guys to the ball. We had guys with high hips and reaching out trying to tackle and you can't do that.
"Unfortunately, we're at a point where we don't have the quality of depth that we need where if we have some key guys hurt we have a fairly large dropoff. It's always that balancing act that you have to make a call as a coach — how physical are you going to be (in practice) and do you need to be to get the team better. We'll continue to try and juggle and adjust that as we go."
The Bulldogs had been making progress, fitting runs and their technique in the secondary better, and the number of big plays allowed had been on the decline. They had allowed just one in a victory over UNLV, that coming on a 73-yard touchdown run. But there were seven against the Aztecs, as well as a few near misses. San Diego State also had plays of 19, 17 and 16 yards.
"I don't know if I would say it was a step back," DeRuyter said. "It was individual guys either busting an assignment or not making a play one-on-one, and you have to give San Diego State credit. That No. 3 for them (Ezell Ruffin), he's a heck of a player. We've got to do a better job tacking him and covering him, but their guys made some plays that were there to be made. The quarterback I thought moved around the pocket and threw the ball decent.
"I thought early in the game we attacked their run pretty good, but late they were able to run the ball more effectively and that's something I thought we had made strides up until that last game. I don't want to say we took a step back — I think San Diego State is really coming into its own, they were fresh and had two weeks to get ready for us and it showed a little bit."
The Bulldogs dropped one spot in the Associated Press Top 25 and held steady at No. 18 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll.
But in the poll that really matters, the BCS standings, the Bulldogs moved up a spot to No. 16, which at the moment would be high enough to qualify for the first BCS bowl in school history.
In order to nab a guaranteed spot in a BCS bowl game, a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference must be ranked in the Top 12 of the final BCS standings or in the Top 16 while also ranked ahead of a champion from an automatic-qualifying conference.
Fresno State for a second week in a row is ahead of American Athletic Conference leaders Houston, Central Florida and Louisville. Louisville is No. 19 in the second BCS standings and UCF is No. 23. The other non-AQ school in the hunt — Northern Illinois — is right behind the Bulldogs at No. 17.
Bo Bonnheim made his first start of the season at left guard playing in place of Alex Fifita, who had missed practice time during the week following a death in his family. Against San Diego State and its tricky 3-3-5 and blitzes, the Bulldogs didn't want to push it.
"With all of the different things that San Diego State does, it's hard to miss days and be ready to go," DeRuyter said. "We had to get somebody ready and Bo stepped up."
Fifita, who had started the first six games there, is expected back in the starting lineup against Nevada.
-- Kickoff coverage remains a huge issue for Fresno State, which dropped to 117th of 123 in the bowl subdivision, allowing 26.3 yards per return. The Bulldogs kicked off six times at San Diego State and the Aztecs' starting field position was the 42-yard line.
-- Nevada comes to Bulldog Stadium on Saturday on a three-game losing streak and is ranked 117th of 123 teams in the bowl subdivision in total defense and 108th in scoring defense. The Wolf Pack has allowed 496.4 yards and 36.3 points per game.
-- Defensive coordinator Nick Toth, after the Bulldogs pulled out their fourth victory by one touchdown or less and their second in overtime in the win at San Diego State: "I don't know if we're going to win them all or if we're going to win any more, but I'll tell you this, these suckers believe we're going to win every play. They don't doubt it. It's a great group of kids."
No. 16 FRESNO STATE vs. NEVADA
Vitals: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium
Records: Bulldogs 7-0, 4-0 MWC; Wolf Pack 3-5, 2-3
Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
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