AIR FORCE AT FRESNO STATE
Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
Records: Falcons 4-3, 1-3 Mountain West; Bulldogs 1-7, 0-4
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TV/radio: ESPN2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Forecast: Partly cloudy, 67 degrees
Keys to victory
1 Have some fun – The Bulldogs have practiced with more outward energy since Tim DeRuyter was let go as coach on Sunday, though it’s just a guess whether that is at all genuine or if it will matter against Air Force. Fresno State still is a 1-7 team and energy has not been the issue. It has been the fundamentals – blocking, tackling, that sort of thing. If they can apply those to the detail they have been lacking this season, there is a chance they can take a step forward.
2 Stay on your feet – Run defense has been an issue. Fresno State is 11th of 12 in the Mountain West Conference allowing 266 yards per game on the ground, including 290.3 yards against FBS opponents. Air Force ripped off 458 rushing yards and five TDs last season in Colorado Springs. This year, the Falcons are second in the conference on the ground (291.4), trailing only New Mexico (374.1). The Bulldogs will have to defeat the cut blocks that come with defending an option offense and get multiple tacklers to the ball.
3 Take advantage of possessions – The three best rushing teams in the Mountain West are the same three that have defended the fewest number of plays, the two going hand in hand. The Bulldogs don’t figure to get a lot of possessions in this game, so they need to be productive when they have the football and take advantage of opportunities. That obviously has not been a strength, and they will have to generate more than the dismal 3.8 yards per play they averaged at Utah State.
Fresno State knew before the season that it would be on a short week ahead of its game against Air Force, so the Bulldogs invested some practice periods one day between fall camp and game prep for the opener at Nebraska working against the cut blocks they would see from the Falcons and their option offense.
There was retention, which made individual drills smoother this week. The defensive line, inside and outside linebackers and defensive backs worked on beating those blocks and went live when going against the scout team.
The discipline Air Force shows remains a concern, given the difficulties and inconsistencies the Bulldogs have had this season filling gaps.
“They’re military guys,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “They are really disciplined and very good at what they do. The thing about Air Force is, if you show them the same picture over and over, they’re going to find a way to attack you.
“They know how to attack different schemes, whether you’re playing four-down (linemen) or three-down. They have plays to attack that. You have to be multiple in what you do, otherwise, they’ll figure out how to get an angle to block you.”
Fresno State has held three consecutive opponents to fewer than 400 yards of offense – the Bulldogs haven’t done that since 2014 – and making it four in a row will come down to the discipline, attention to detail and tackling.
“It’s assignment football,” Ward said. “Even spread teams today, with zone read, it’s option football. We’ve been practicing against option football; not the same as Air Force, but it’s assignment football and you have to take care of your assignment if you’re going to be good on defense.”
O-(line), no – The Bulldogs’ offensive line had some issues last week in the loss at Utah State – flagged for four false starts, three times for having an ineligible receiver downfield, and there was a chop bock penalty as well, which has been a problem all season.
There obviously is some cleanup to do, but there were extenuating circumstance on at least a couple of those false-start penalties. It wasn’t crowd noise – there was only 15,067 in Maverik Stadium in Logan.
“A lot of the false starts were, and it’s not an excuse because we worked on it all week, Utah State’s defensive line. They have a ‘move’ call and they yell it out really loud,” said interim coach Eric Kiesau, also the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator.
“That kind of got them jumping a little bit early in the game, but then they settled down. We actually had something in our cadence to help them out as well, so we tried to have something to help them out. But we have to clean those things up.”
All’s quiet – Jeff Camilli and Chason Virgil, two of the Bulldogs’ four team captains, spoke at a news conference Monday, but Kiesau kept the Bulldogs’ players on lockdown this week after coach Tim DeRuyter was fired.
Whole again? – Senior wide receiver Aaron Peck, who did not play last week because of an ankle injury, could face the Falcons.
“He has been practicing all week; it’s just going to come down to how he’s feeling on game day,” Kiesau said. “We’ll make that decision as we get closer to the game.”
Peck and sophomores KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan have combined to catch 115 of Virgil’s 155 completions, accounting for 1,549 of his 1,710 passing yards.
With Peck out at Utah State, Delvon Hardaway and Mike Martens got more reps on the outside. Hardaway was targeted 10 times by Virgil, catching three passes for 47 yards. Martens was targeted twice, catching one for 5 yards.
More Mike Bell – Fresno State has struggled this season to force turnovers. The Bulldogs have five (two fumbles, three interceptions) and are on pace for about eight for the season.
Either way, that would be the fewest for the Bulldogs dating through the 2000 season.
They hope redshirt freshman Mike Bell can help boost that number. Bell is expected to start at strong safety ahead of sophomore DeShawn Potts, who is sixth on the team with 39 tackles, including 21 solo stops and one for a loss. He also has three pass breakups.
“Mike is a physical young man, a really good tackler,” Ward said. “I’d like for him to have better practice habits, but I’m starting to understand that’s just not who Mike is. But when the lights come on, Mike goes 100 miles an hour and you have to like that as a coach.”
Et cetera – Camilli is averaging 10 tackles per game to lead the team. The Bulldogs have not had a player average 10 or more tackles over a full season since Marcus Riley in 2007. Riley was in on 132 tackles (64 solo) in 13 games, or 10.2 per game.
▪ Fresno State is on a six-game losing streak. The school record is seven in a 1-7 season in 1929 under coach Stanley Borleske and matched in a 4-8 season in 2006 under Pat Hill.
▪ Air Force, running out of the option, has 23 pass plays of 20 or more yards. Fresno State has 21.
▪ The Falcons have scored in 292 consecutive games, the fifth-longest streak in the nation behind Michigan (365), BYU (361), Florida (354) and Texas Christian (295).
▪ Fresno State’s Kody Kroening has made 13 straight field goals, tied for the second-longest streak in the nation. He is 5 for 5 from 40 yards and out, hitting field goals of 42 yards at Toledo, 42 and 47 yards at UNLV, 44 yards at Nevada and a career-best 49-yarder last week at Utah State. Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez leads with 14.
▪ Tight end Chad Olsen was the most accomplished pass catcher in that position group, but with the junior out of the mix the Bulldogs’ tight ends have been targeted nine times and have seven receptions. Kyle Riddering, who has worked his way into becoming a more legitimate downfield option, has seven targets and five receptions. Jared Rice has two targets and two receptions, both for scores.
▪ Tight ends coach Joe Bernardi, a Fresno State grad, on the events of the past week: “You have to live in the present. Right now the only thing I control is those seven tight ends and trying to beat Air Force. That’s the only thing that matters right now. When the time comes, we’ll worry about other stuff. But right now our goal is to beat Air Force. Period.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada