Reviewing the tape, as much of a pain as it might be after a 52-17 loss at Toledo that was every bit as thorough as that score indicates, Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter and his staff saw a lot of correctable errors. Missed assignments. Poor technique. Bad penalties. There was the mental – assignment busts on both sides of the ball. There was the physical – missed tackles by just about everyone that lined up on the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs, and there were 26 of them.
They saw answers, because they’re coaches.
They saw one even for what was most ailing the Bulldogs and something that would not be thought to be a quick fix – a glaring lack of physicality that showed in the line play, in finishing plays.
When guys are questioning their technique because they’re not confident in what they’re doing, you can appear to be less physical than you should be and we have to make sure our guys are playing hard and fast.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
“You get stronger by playing guys that are older and stronger, that’s the obvious one,” DeRuyter said. “But you also get stronger by having guys who are playing with confidence and flying around because they know what they’re doing.
“One of the things that we’re looking at right now is, ‘Do we have too much stuff in still?’ If our guys are going full speed, I think we can be physical with a lot of people. But if they’re hesitant because they’re not sure, they’re going to appear to be not physical. As coaches, we have to accept part of that blame for not being physical. It’s not something where we’re just picking on our players. We’ve got to, one, develop them and get them stronger, and, two, give them the opportunity to play their best.”
The Bulldogs went about exploring that on Sunday, and need to find answers quickly. The upcoming Mountain West Conference play is no safe haven if last season is any indication because a lack of physicality was an issue there a year ago, too.
That does not preclude them from winning football games, but there are not a lot of favorable matchups and the Bulldogs will have to execute offense, defense and special teams very well to add to the left-hand column, the one that matters most in their W-L world.
They caught San Diego State last season before it really got rolling – the Aztecs won 10 in a row after a 1-3 start – and held up against the most physical team in the conference only to be undone by two big plays and a ton of operator error in one of the worst offensive performances in school history.
The Bulldogs are ranked 120th of 128 teams in the nation in rushing offense at 94.0 yards per game and tied for 115th in tackles for loss allowed with 26, an average of 8.7 in their three games.
“We went toe to toe with them because I think we had a good game plan, it was fairly basic, and our kids played hard and fast,” DeRuyter said. “When you can do that, you have a chance.”
But they were not close against the Rockets, who had a running back in Kareem Hunt who was bigger than some of the players that Fresno State lines up at linebacker, receivers who were more physical than the defensive backs covering them and offensive and defensive lines that were able to handle with telling ease the Bulldogs’ linemen across from them.
“When guys are questioning their technique because they’re not confident in what they’re doing, you can appear to be less physical than you should be and we have to make sure our guys are playing hard and fast,” DeRuyter said. “Our offense, it is something new. We’d love to have more things in, but we probably have to worry about getting the details of things better than what we’ve done.”
On punting – The Bulldogs’ first 10 drives and 12 of 15 ended with a punt by Blake Cusick.
The 12 punts are one off the school record of 13 set by Mike Mancini in a 7-3 victory at Long Beach State on Nov. 12, 1983.
On defense, 0 for 13 on third downs, that’s really impressive and a really good job of getting off the field and we preach that around here.
Toledo coach Jason Candle
Going into Week 3, there were 95 teams in the nation that had not punted 12 times.
Coming out of Week 3, there still are 36 that have not punted 12 times.
The Mountain West record for punts in a game is 14 set by New Mexico in a 28-7 loss to Utah in 2004 and by Utah State in a 12-9 victory over Southern Utah last season.
Misread zone – Fresno State switched up its practice plan in the week before playing at Toledo and had quarterback Chason Virgil run the offense during its live run drill period to get him more work on the zone read, when to pull the football and take off running with it.
He had a nice pull for a modest gain in the first half, but most of the running he did was to avoid the Rockets’ pass rush – they had five sacks and six quarterback hurries.
“I think he did better this week,” DeRuyter said. “There were probably a couple that he could have pulled, but looking at it on film versus on the sideline, I thought he made pretty good decisions.”
The Bulldogs when in their run drill have receivers and quarterbacks working one-on-one against defensive backs, and Virgil the previous two weeks had been there.
Et cetera – Virgil averaged 8.3 yards on his 23 passing attempts, which is the highest by a Bulldogs’ starting quarterback since Derek Carr hit 38 of 50 passes for 519 yards, 10.4 per play, on Nov. 29, 2013, in a 62-52 loss at San Jose State. Virgil had 190 passing yards at Toledo, 85 of them coming on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jamire Jordan.
▪ Tulsa, which visits Bulldog Stadium on Saturday, has only one senior starter on its offensive line and though it has two senior defensive tackles, at 286 and 289 pounds they are not as big or as physical as the Rockets’ Treyvon Hester and Earl Moore. Hester was a tough block for the Bulldogs – he led Toledo with five tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
▪ Fresno State is ranked last in the Mountain West in rushing offense, averaging only 2.9 yards per play and 94 yards per game. It also is tied with San Jose State for last in tackles for loss allowed with 26.
▪ After Virgil went 1 of 9 on third-down passes against the Rockets, the Bulldogs have hit on only 12 of 32 third-down passes (37.5 percent). They have eight first downs.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BACK AT HOME: FRESNO STATE VS. TULSA
▪ Vitals: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium
▪ Records: Golden Hurricane 2-1, Bulldogs 1-2
▪ Radio: KFIG-AM 940; KGST-AM 1600