Fresno State has few position groups that at this point can be defined as a definite strength, by talent, depth and balance. But at the cornerback spots, the Bulldogs do come close with senior starters in Tyquwan Glass and Jamal Ellis, and those two could be leaned on more in the future than they were in an opening loss at Nebraska when game flow tilted playing rotations a bit.
“I’ll keep Jamal and Tyquwan in the game if the game is going according to plan,” said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who coaches the secondary along with graduate assistant Sean Alston. “The first series, the offense, we had the ball for 13 plays, so they had plenty of rest. But ideally if we’re getting off the field and they’re staying on, then those guys will play.
“After we got a couple of three-and-outs and we had long drives, now I’m thinking I’ve got to keep these guys fresh. That’s why I rotated the way that I did.”
We’re a young team and especially on offense with some new things going on, we have to get a more physical mindset.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
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In the loss to the Cornhuskers, the Fresno State offense after an opening 13-play drive that ended with a missed field goal went three-and-out on consecutive series and in the third quarter three of four series lasted only three plays.
Third-year sophomore Anthoula (Tank) Kelly, who had been in practice for only 13 days after coming back from a knee injury that was believed to have him sidelined for the season, was the first to rotate into the game. Redshirt freshman Mike Bell was next and freshman Juju Hughes, who is on special teams units, got some reps toward the end of the game.
The seniors were not on the field for a decisive strike on the first play of the fourth quarter when Tommy Armstrong Jr. hit Alonzo Moore for a 57-yard touchdown that pushed the Cornhuskers’ lead to 28-10. But the 6-foot-3 Bell gave the Bulldogs strong reps and Kelly, with the exception of perhaps two plays, was solid given a lack of reps during fall camp.
“We think we have some depth there – that’s why you feel good about rotating guys in,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’ve got some young guys that need game reps, and I thought Mike and Tank did some good things.
“Tank has to be more consistent, but a lot of times young guys come into an environment like that and they get the big eyes and they don’t allow themselves to compete at a top level because their concerned about other things. The adrenalin is just pumping too much. But Mike seemed to have a great look in his eye and competed well.”
Sending a message – The Bulldogs had another live practice period Wednesday, this time working a sudden-change situation with the first offense going against the first defense following an imagined turnover.
Fresno State allowed Nebraska to complete only 46.2% of its passes, but the 8.8 yards allowed per attempt is much higher than the three Mountain West teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs. San Diego State allowed 35% and 3.5 yards per play, UNLV 39.5% and 3.3 and Nevada 41.7% and 5.2.
The end result – the offense was stopped inside the 5-yard line – was secondary to the significance of the drill for a team that has not over the past two seasons exerted much pressure on opponents.
“We’re a young team and especially on offense with some new things going on, we have to get a more physical mindset,” DeRuyter said. “We start (Wednesday) off with a sudden-change period. Nobody knew. There was a turnover middle of practice, the offense got the ball at the 28 going in. It’s a live period and you have to score there. We got down to the 1-yard line and we didn’t score. Great job by the defense bowing your neck, but offensively we have to put that in.”
Silence sounds good – Inside (Mike) linebacker Trent Soechting was credited with seven tackles and had the Bulldogs’ only tackle for loss at Nebraska. The sophomore transfer from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, said his first game was everything he expected, his favorite part shared by many of his teammates.
“Playing in front of that many people, incredible feeling, especially when we were clicking,” he said. “I felt like we really bonded as a team in that atmosphere and one of the coolest feelings was making a play and the whole place is hushed. That was one of the coolest. We were telling each other on the sideline, ‘Do you hear that? They’re not cheering anymore.’ It was an awesome atmosphere.”
Et cetera – Plenty of seats remain for the home opener Saturday against Sacramento State – Fresno State is expecting about 28,000 for the game in a venue that seats 41,031.
Fresno State had 32,547 for its home opener last season against Abilene Christian, a 34-13 victory.
Fresno State last season ranked third in the Mountain West in home attendance, averaging 29,036 despite going 3-9. For its four home conference games, the average attendance was only 26,999.
In the opening week of the season, seven Mountain West teams played on home fields. Utah State filled 90.2% of its seats at Maverik Stadium, Air Force was at 71.1% at Falcon Stadium, San Diego State was at 65.9% at Qualcomm Stadium, Nevada was at 63.8% at Mackay Stadium, Wyoming was 63.3% at War Memorial Stadium, New Mexico at 51.6% at University Stadium and UNLV 46.4% at Sam Boyd Stadium.
▪ The Hornets have just seven seniors on their depth chart for the game at Fresno State, four on offense and three on defense. Of those seven, two are running backs Jordan Robinson and Demetrius Warren (Bullard High) and three are listed at No. 3 or lower at their positions.
▪ Ward said free safety Stratton Brown had the best game among that group at Nebraska.
Brown, a senior making his first career start, was physical, fit the run well and was in on six tackles. There were some question there entering fall camp at the free and strong safety positions, but Ward said he was encouraged by the progress that they have been making.
“I feel like we have two really good starters and (DeShawn) Potts, he hasn’t had a lot of playing experience, but the more he plays he’ll get better and better,” he said. “Those two young men come over here every single day when they don’t have class and sit down with me and want to know stuff. They want to get better. And Jalen (Smith), he is really coming along. Jalen will help us.”
▪ The Bulldogs are 26-1 against FCS opponents going back to 1982 and DeRuyter is 4-0, those victories coming by an average of 26.0 points per game. The Mountain West is 8-5 in nonconference games and six of those wins came against FCS opponents.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada