The production has picked up, the past two games closer to what the Fresno State Bulldogs thought they would get this season from nose guard Malik Forrester, one of their top recruits in 2016.
He had six tackles at Nevada, then six more against San Diego State, including two for losses.
But here’s the thing when looking at someone on a football field who is 6-foot-1 and 320 pounds and has the quickness and athleticism of a man much smaller and the strength and power of a man much larger (or at least that size): Good is a moving target. With each game, as Forrester discards the nagging knee, ankle and shoulder injuries that slowed him early in the season and puts together solid games, a high ceiling only moves higher.
He knows and understands that, wants to catch up to it.
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Nose guard Malik Forrester had two tackles for loss against San Diego State, matching the season high by a Bulldogs player. Inside linebacker Jeff Camilli and outside linebacker Brandon Hughes each had two against Tulsa.
“I feel like I can play much better,” Forrester said. “I come out to practice and I don’t practice how I play in the game and I get a bad report for the day, so I’m like, ‘Man, I guess there’s no going backward now.
“There’s never a day going backward here at Fresno State. But that’s a good thing. It shows that they want me to get better, that they want the team to get better and that they care.”
Forrester gets reminders of that through practices and in meetings, because there are flashes every day from a player who can take on double teams and control the line of scrimmage.
When Forrester was recruited, head coach Tim DeRuyter and defensive line coach Pete Germano made comparisons to former Bulldogs nose guard Tyeler Davison, who was the New Orleans Saints’ fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Physically, they are similar: Davison a little taller, Forrester a little heavier.
“If he can stay healthy and can continue to play where he is, yes, he can continue to push toward that ceiling and can continue to put together back-to-back games where he can be a factor,” Germano said.
There’s never a day going backward here at Fresno State. But that’s a good thing. It shows that they want me to get better, that they want the team to get better.
Fresno State nose guard Malik Forrester
“He has the power and the strength to be able to dominate at the line of scrimmage. It’s doing it on a consistent basis, play after play, that’s the issue.”
Forrester will keep getting a push, and figures to keep getting a lot of chances.
Two of the Bulldogs’ three Mountain West opponents to this point set season-highs for rushing attempts when facing Fresno State. UNLV ran the football 54 times against the Bulldogs, or 77.1 percent of its plays. San Diego State rushed it 61 times, or 83.6 percent of its plays.
Nevada ran the ball 49 times, its second-highest total this season, or 68.1 percent of its plays.
The Bulldogs play at Utah State on Saturday, a first conference victory at stake for both teams, and the Aggies could have running back Devante Mays back in the lineup.
Mays, a 230-pound back who has missed the past three games with a leg injury, has carried the ball 27 times for 234 yards and three touchdowns this season, 8.7 yards per play.
In this defense, when you play an odd front, you have to have a difference-maker nose guard, and we think he has the potential to be that guy so hopefully that growth will continue.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
The majority of those yards and all of those touchdowns came against Weber State, a team from the championship subdivision. But the Bulldogs, with a struggling run defense ranked last of 12 in the Mountain West, can’t cast aspersions in any direction.
They just need to play better, and Forrester is a 320-pound part in that equation.
“Anytime you start in a new system like he is, we see the potential in him, but he’s not playing as fast as he possibly can because it’s new to him,” DeRuyter said. “He’s getting to that point now halfway through the season where he’s getting more comfortable and he’s playing with more burst than he did earlier when he was thinking about things.
“He’s starting to become the player that we envisioned, and we need him. In this defense, when you play an odd front, you have to have a difference-maker nose guard, and we think he has the potential to be that guy, so hopefully that growth will continue.”
DeRuyter said he felt Forrester was 80 percent to 90 percent there, and the junior said he was more comfortable understanding the defense and his role in it, with the play calls and the speed of the game.
But the past two games, Forrester knows, are just steps.
“I can play better. I still make mistakes – we all do,” he said. “But the mistakes I’m making I feel are the easy ones that should be great plays, that can stop them from getting touchdowns and stop them from getting big runs. I feel like I can still pick it up a lot.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT UTAH STATE
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium (22,059) in Logan, Utah
- Records: Bulldogs 1-6, 0-3 Mountain West; Aggies 2-4, 0-3
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)