It’s Fresno State and Utah State, two struggling teams that are winless in Mountain West play with three conference games down and five to go in a matchup where the quarterback play both ways will be a focal point for the Bulldogs.
The Aggies’ Kent Myers got off to a rousing start as a freshman two seasons ago by winning his first four starts and five of six after Utah State lost Chuckie Keeton to injury. Since then, Myers has proven he is a tough matchup when all is right. The Bulldogs saw that last season when getting drilled 56-14 by Utah State. The Aggies’ quarterback can make plays with his feet and his arm.
On the other side, the Bulldogs’ Chason Virgil has struggled at the start of his career – Fresno State is just 1-7 in games he has started. But the redshirt freshman made some gains a week ago in a loss to San Diego State, adding an element to the offense with his ability to extend plays with his feet and add to the running game. He had a 28-yard run and another for 11, which can’t be discounted. Fresno State has only fiverushing plays of 20 or more yards this season, only two of them by a running back.
Fresno State is averaging just 20.6 points per game, which ranks last in the Mountain West and 117th in the nation. More telling, though, the 20.6 points are fewer than the 22.3 the Bulldogs averaged a year ago when beset by injuries and poor play at the quarterback position.
The Bulldogs need to keep Virgil pushing through that learning curve – he is second in the conference in passing yards but only eighth among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage and passing efficiency rating.
And they need to continue to get the run fits right, tackle better and get Myers going sideways – coming into the season, he had hit 68.9 percent of his passes with an efficiency rating of 162.52 in Utah State wins and just 55.1 percent and 127.80 in its losses.
“Great team defense is when guys play their assignments aggressively and you get multiple hats to the ball,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “That way if you do have a missed tackle, you have two, three, four guys there. That’s defense. You have to have that.”
Against Myers and the Aggies, Fresno State (1-6, 0-3 MW) will have to start by defending the run, as Utah State before a bye week rolled up 251 yards and three touchdowns in a loss at Colorado State without its best running back, Devante Mays.
It’s slow progress, but he’s definitely getting better each week understanding the pocket and he has less times where he’s bailing out too early.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, on quarterback Chason Virgil
Mays has missed the past three games with a leg injury and could return against the Bulldogs. Whether he’s in or out, Fresno State needs to shrink the Utah State offense and try to keep Myers from getting outside the tackles, where he is most effective on the move.
Virgil has been just as problematic this season, and graduate transfer Zach Kline, who played two series during the second quarter in a loss at Nevada two weeks ago, could get some snaps against the Aggies.
But the Bulldogs are seeing improvement from Virgil, though the pace is slower than they would like at this point in the season.
Fresno State is ranked last of 12 in the Mountain West in scoring offense at 20.6 points per game – that is lower, even, than the 22.3 points per game they put up last season when four quarterbacks started at least one game, led by Zack Greenlee and Kilton Anderson.
The Bulldogs also have run the second-most plays of any MW team – 500, five behind conference leader Colorado State – so opportunity is there. They just have not done much or enough with their opportunities, averaging only 4.97 yards per play, the lowest in the conference.
6 Points scored by Fresno State in the first quarter of its four road games.
A more active Virgil may help both of those numbers – a season-high 4.9 yards per rush by the quarterback last week went along with a season-high 61.5 completion percentage.
That is improvement and production they have worked to build.
“We’ve been doing a lot more pocket work,” offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said. “Rather than bailing out, we’re sliding up in the pocket and taking the yards you can get. That’s as good as a check-down to the (running) back, and obviously the defense has to defend it.
“It’s something that we’ve been working on. Really, he’s getting better each week. It’s slow progress, but he’s definitely getting better each week understanding the pocket, and he has less times where he’s bailing out too early. He’s staying in there and making throws.”
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)