The number at the end of the game looked good. The number in the fourth quarter looked even better.
The number for the first three quarters, that one left the Fresno State Bulldogs a bit mystified.
Their rushing game generated just 3.3 yards a play through the first 45 minutes of the game against FCS Sacramento State, then 8.1 in the final 15 minutes and ended up at 4.7 yards per play, and the problem could have been the Bulldogs were scratching their heads too much – in other words, overthinking.
“I think from the O-line’s perspective we weren’t cutting it loose enough, maybe trying not to make mistakes as opposed to letting it loose,” center Jacob Vazquez said.
The last three times Fresno State has been held to less than 100 rushing yards, it has come back with 200 or more in its next game. It had 82 against Utah State and then 217 against UNLV and 85 at BYU and then 216 against Colorado State last season, and 31 at Nebraska and then 200 against Sacramento State this season.
Coach Tim DeRuyter said there would be some adjustments in practice this week as the Bulldogs prepare for Toledo, a Mid-American Conference opponent that should provide a much better barometer than Nebraska or the Hornets where the Bulldogs are at this juncture.
“That’s the constant question with a young offense: How much can guys handle vs. we don’t want to make it easy for the opponent to figure out what you’re doing, too,” DeRuyter said.
“We came out in the Sac State game wanting to establish the run and we didn’t block the run the first two plays. When you do that, and then in the second series we don’t block things right, it doesn’t matter what you’re calling. We have to be much more efficient at doing the little things right, whether it’s taking the right steps, tracking the right angle.”
Saturday the Bulldogs will go against a Toledo defense that has not faced great competition in Arkansas State and FCS Maine and has dominated fairly well.
The Rockets have allowed 3.9 yards per play and 156.0 yards per game on the ground, but only 94.5 yards per game through the air.
We have to be much more efficient at doing the little things right, whether it’s taking the right steps, tracking the right angle.
Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter, on the Bulldogs’ line play
Island living – Senior cornerbacks Tyquwan Glass and Jamal Ellis had interceptions against Sacramento State, both coming on plays where their experience played big when reading and then jumping routes.
“They’re guys that had confidence in what they were doing and played aggressively,” DeRuyter said. “They broke on the ball well, had great vision and took advantage of knowing what was going to happen and playing fast. When you have veteran guys, that’s what you expect them to do.”
That experience will get a severe test at Toledo – the Rockets are averaging 12.1 yards per pass attempt, fifth best in the nation.
Fresno State matched up against a deep corps of receivers at Nebraska led by Jordan Westerkamp, who is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list. The Cornhuskers, though, attempted just 13 passes in a 43-10 season-opening victory over the Bulldogs.
Toledo is averaging 29 pass attempts per game and has three wideouts averaging more than 20 yards per reception. It is led by Cody Thompson at 37.0.
He’s a very physical guy and we’re looking for the right guys inside to see who will be physical and who will play.
Coach Tim DeRuyter, on offensive lineman Ryan Popolizio
“They have great offense,” Ellis said. “No. 25 (Thompson), they have another slot that is very quick and elusive, so we just have to have a good week of practice, study film up and be prepared.”
Change up front – Ryan Popolizio, a transfer from San Mateo College, has worked as a tackle since arriving at Fresno State for the spring semester. But the 6-foot-7, 309-pound junior was taking reps at right guard in practice Tuesday with the No. 2 offense. It is, at this point, something to look at given the rushing struggles Fresno State had against Sacramento State.
“Pop has been doing a nice job in some of our control drills,” DeRuyter said. “He’s a very physical guy and we’re looking for the right guys inside to see who will be physical and who will play. There’s nothing set right now, and we’ve got to play better inside than what we did the other day.”
Et cetera – Outside linebacker Tobenna Okeke, who missed a large chunk of fall camp with an ankle injury, got onto the field for about 20 plays against Sacramento State and was in on one tackle.
He is expected to get more reps at Toledo.
“I think he can be a playmaker for us, but he has to feel like he’s 100 percent or close to it and push through it,” DeRuyter said. “We have to get him to where he’s playing fast again.”
▪ In the Rockets’ victory over FCS Maine, they averaged 8.6 yards per play, a big number against anyone on their schedule other than conference rival Eastern Michigan. In the past four meetings against Eastern Michigan, Toledo has averaged 9.9, 7.7, 8.9 and 9.5 yards per play.
▪ Fresno State has won nine consecutive games when snaring two or more interceptions.
▪ Dontel James with 121 yards against Sacramento State is the first Bulldog to gain 100 yards this season, and they need two more to match their total from a 3-9 season a year ago. The three 100-yard games in 2015 were the fewest for Fresno State since it had two in 1988 – Darrell Rosette had 146 against Pacific and 149 against Western Michigan.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada