The first quarter could not have gone much better for Fresno State. The Bulldogs shut down the Tulsa run game and also had three sacks, with the Golden Hurricane held to 37 total yards on 20 plays and its tempo – often incendiary – a nonfactor.
After that, though, Tulsa created some gaping holes, both schematically and physically with a solid offensive line, ripping off 18 runs of 10 or more yards and 330 rushing yards the rest of the way in beating Fresno State 48-41 in overtime.
On the Bulldogs’ side, there were run-fit, adjustment and communication issues. But after some changes to the way they’ll go about fitting the run against one- and two-back sets, and three days on the practice field to work on them, they do have answers and potentially at the best possible time.
I’m sure they’ll look at that tape and lick their chops, but we’ve been working to get our guys fit the right way.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on the matchup vs. UNLV’s ground game after allowing 344 yards in last week’s OT loss to Tulsa
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Fresno State on Saturday opens Mountain West Conference play at UNLV, which will run out of similar looks in an “11” personnel package, with one running back and one tight end.
“I really believe we have it fixed,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
If not, it could be another difficult night for the Bulldogs. Fresno State in its past two games has given up 318 rushing yards in a loss at Toledo and 344 to Tulsa. And the Rebels, even without injured starting quarterback Johnny Stanton, pose a credible threat.
UNLV (1-3) has averaged 6 yards per play and 250 per game, led by sophomore Lexington Thomas. Much of that has come against FCS Jackson State and last week in a 33-30 overtime loss to Idaho, but the Rebels also rushed for 175 yards against UCLA at 5 yards per play and 182 against Central Michigan at 4.8.
The Bruins are seventh in the Pac-12 against the run, and the Chippewas second in the Mid-American.
“(UNLV is) going to get into some run game out of 11 personnel,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “I’m sure they’ll look at that tape and lick their chops, but we’ve been working to get our guys fit the right way. Our guys know what to do in and out of the game, we just have to be much more consistent doing it.
The Bulldogs have allowed 300 or more rushing yards in a game seven times under DeRuyter, including back-to-back weeks at Toledo (318 yards) and against Tulsa (344).
“We’ve been working on that since Sunday. Guys have to be able to play fast and the only way you can play fast is knowing your assignment and trusting the guys around you.”
Inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli said the experience gained last week should help.
“They run a lot of the same stuff,” Camilli said. “They have that Y-off look like we had against Tulsa, so it’s really just going to be translating it over.
“We’re making changes to how we’re fitting stuff this week, so I think it’s going to be good. We saw all that stuff last week, so it’s another week that we’re going to see it and hopefully play better against it.”
Working it – Fresno State on Tuesday and again Wednesday did a lot of live work, both in individual drills and team periods. It paid dividends last week against Tulsa, particularly in a fast start that saw the Bulldogs jump to a 31-0 lead, and DeRuyter said he liked the way the team stayed after it this week on the practice field.
“It has been good,” he said. “We’ve been going live against each other. We’re starting to see guys emerge. It’s really good to see Saevion (Johnson) run the ball the way he has been running. We need to continue to do that to get better on both sides.”
Kicking it – Freshman Nick Van Valkenburg handled the Bulldogs’ kickoff duties last week with Jimmy Camacho out. Camacho was one of three players suspended for the first half against Tulsa, but DeRuyter said there is a chance Van Valkenburg could be the man again against the Rebels.
Fresno State ranks second in the Mountain West and 11th in the nation in kickoff coverage, allowing an average of 15.4 yards on 13 returns.
Van Valkenburg had a solid day against Tulsa, getting good hang time and placement. He hit one out of bounds, but on another the return man fielded the ball right on the sideline and ended up stepping out of bounds at their 4.
Tulsa averaged 16 yards on six returns.
Et cetera – Johnson, the freshman running back, was looking at taking a redshirt season before Dejonte O’Neal went down with a knee injury in the loss to Tulsa.
The Bulldogs have options behind starter Dontel James in Treyvon Green and Bryson Oglesby, but Johnson has practiced well this week coming back from a hamstring injury in fall camp.
“It’s likely that he’s not (going to redshirt), but he has to go earn it,” DeRuyter said. “With our entire league schedule, we’re going to need him likely if he can get into the top two or three.”
▪ Tight end Chad Olsen has had some solid games against UNLV – as a true freshman, he caught four passes including two touchdowns, though the Bulldogs lost in overtime. Is there opportunity in the defense they will be seeing Saturday?
“That’s a little above my pay grade,” Olsen joked. “I always just do what I’m told. I know (offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau) is an amazingly smart guy. He’s going to put us where we need to make plays.”
▪ Thomas, the UNLV running back, has rushed for 100 or more yards in three consecutive games. He had 112 on 19 plays at UCLA, 113 on 17 plays at Central Michigan and a career-high 160 on 19 plays last week against Idaho at Sam Boyd Stadium.
He has six rushing touchdowns, tied for third in the Mountain West with Brian Hill (Wyoming). Jeremy McNichols (Boise State) and Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State) have seven.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Mountain West opener
FRESNO STATE AT UNLV
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium (35,500)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-3, Rebels 1-3
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Fresno State is 5-3 at UNLV as part of its 13-5 series lead. A 30-27 overtime loss in 2014 was Bulldogs’ first visit since 1996. The last time UNLV won three straight at Sam Boyd vs. Fresno State was during a run from 1980-84.