Fresno State has in seasons past matched up against offenses that run three wideouts, one tight end and one running back onto the field – the way the Toledo Rockets will more often than not Saturday at the Glass Bowl. In some of those games, the results have been very favorable for the Bulldogs.
The Rockets, though, do not resemble most of those teams, which struggled with the Bulldogs’ disguises and pressure.
Through two games, albeit against suspect competition in Arkansas State and Maine, Toledo has rolled up an average of 536.0 yards of offense and 38.0 points a game.
You just have to be really disciplined, and if you’re going to be really multiple like we are, you have to have all of your bases covered.
Fresno State inside linebackers coach Nick Toth
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The Rockets have a veteran quarterback in Logan Woodside, a big back in 225-pound Kareem Hunt and wideouts who can score from just about anywhere.
That personnel is not comparable, but in some ways the Bulldogs will find a resemblance to the offenses they put on the field in 2012 and ’13 in the way Woodside pushes tempo, makes a read off a run/pass option at the snap of the ball and is able to distribute it to a back, tight end or wideout working left, middle or right and short, intermediate or long.
“They do a really nice job of reading the coverage and reading linebackers,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “If they’re light on the outside, they call a run play and they’ll pull it back and they’re throwing it.
“They do a good job with different formations and motions to be able to identify what it is you’re in. The onus is on us to do a great job with our disguise to not let them know what we’re in all the time.”
Toledo also has not allowed a sack this season, or in 11 of its past 14 games. That obviously complicates things for the Bulldogs, but that is their charge against the Rockets: Make it complicated for Toledo.
“You can pressure anybody,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “You have to be smart when you do, because they have a really good offensive line, and they have good skill and a good running back, too.
Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside ranks third nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 206.97. He has completed 64.3 percent of his passes, averaging 12.5 yards on 56 attempts and 19.4 yards on 36 completions.
“They like to get the ball in the running back’s hands, even in the passing game, so you have to be smart about what pressures you do bring.”
The Bulldogs (1-1)must challenge an offense that has not faced much adversity this season – Arkansas State has allowed an average of 631.0 yards of offense in its two games, the most in the nation. They need to throw some doubt into Woodside, scuttle the Rockets’ run game, get them out of mixed downs (in which they can run or pass) so the Bulldogs can more easily dial up pressure, and finish tackles.
Fresno State does have some advantages lining up in nickel packages with outside linebacker James Bailey, who at 220 pounds has the size to play the run and the athleticism and skill to play man coverage against a slot receiver. The Bulldogs also have a healthier Tobenna Okeke, who has been limited by an ankle injury suffered in fall camp but got about 20 reps in the victory over Sacramento State and could add more thump to a nickel pass rush that needs to generate more heat.
But they will match up against two massive tackles in senior Storm Norton (6-8, 306) and junior Elijah Nkansah (6-6, 315), and there are two seniors at guard.
You can pressure anybody. You have to be smart when you do, because they have a really good offensive line, and they have good skill and a good running back, too.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward
And Toledo, if not agitated, has proven its explosiveness. The Rockets have had five wide outs catch at least one pass and all of them are averaging 10 yards or more per reception led by Cody Thompson at a fairly ridiculous 37.0 yards on seven catches, Jon’Vea Johnson 39.0 on two and Corey Jones 17.1 on a team-leading nine receptions.
It will come down to making plays and getting into favorable down-and-distances.
“When they’re in 50-50 situations (run vs. pass) like most people are on first and second downs, it’s difficult to get pressure because most people aren’t taking shots down the field,” DeRuyter said.
“These guys, they’re hitting 5-yard passes and their receivers are taking them for 50 or 60 yards. It’s an extension of their run game. But once you can get them into a third-and-six or third-and-seven-plus, now you have a chance to dial up some pressures or do some things coverage-wise and pass stunt-wise up front. But if you don’t ever get there, it’s hard to get to the quarterback.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT TOLEDO
- Saturday: Noon at the Glass Bowl (26,038)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1, Rockets 2-0
- TV/radio: KSEE (Ch. 24.1), ESPN3 online/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Fresno State leads 2-0, including a 55-54 double-overtime road win in 2008