Fresno State had a lot on its could-do list this football season, starting with winning some games. That hasn’t happened, obviously.
The Bulldogs are 1-8 after their latest loss, this one 31-21 to Air Force. But failing that, they hoped to find stability at quarterback – a position that has been a big part of their freefall from the top of the Mountain West Conference.
At this point, that doesn’t look like it will happen, either.
Chason Virgil, a redshirt freshman, continues to show flashes. He threw for 303 of the Bulldogs’ 312 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons. To illustrate the depths to which the quarterback group has plunged the past two seasons, that was the first time Fresno State has passed for 300 or more yards since the conference championship game loss at Boise State in 2014.
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In the 21 games between those 300-yard markers, the Bulldogs didn’t even pass for 200 yards on 12 occasions and didn’t crack 100 twice. They averaged 193.6 per game.
I want to stick with Chason, but I have to study the film and make sure it’s the right thing for the team. It’s about winning games right now. We have no control over next year. The big thing is these seniors and these players and making sure they have a great experience these last three weeks.
Fresno State interim coach Eric Kiesau
But in topping 300, Virgil completed only 18 of 37 passes (48.6 percent), threw four interceptions, including one in the red zone, and still has not solidified a hold on the position.
Quarterback play is far from the only problem, and there still are three games remaining, all opportunities. Virgil easily could change the course of the dialogue next Saturday at Colorado State or after a bye in games against Hawaii or San Jose State.
But at the moment it appears very clear that the Bulldogs will be starting from zero again at what obviously is one of the most critical positions – as they did two years ago when an untested Brian Burrell stepped into a gigantic void after Derek Carr departed for the NFL … as they did last season when a skittish Zack Greenlee emerged from fall camp as the starter and held that spot for all of two games … and again this season when Virgil won the job pretty much by default.
Before hitting the play button and watching video from the Air Force video game Saturday morning, interim coach Eric Kiesau hinted there could be a change.
“I’m going to look at it really close and I have to figure out what is the best personnel movements and what is the best plan moving forward for these last three games,” said Kiesau, the offensive coordinator who took over when Tim DeRuyter was fired last weekend amid what is now a seven-game losing streak. “I want to stick with Chason, but I have to study the film and make sure it’s the right thing for the team.
The Bulldogs are 0-5 in Mountain West play. Only six teams have gone winless in conference - Hawaii in 2015, Air Force and Hawaii in 2013, Colorado State in 2009 and Wyoming in 2001 and 2000.
“It’s about winning games right now. We have no control over next year. I don’t know if I’m going to be here next year. The big thing is these seniors and these players and making sure they have a great experience these last three weeks and we’ll put the best guys on the field to give them an opportunity to win some games. That’s all my focus is on right now, these players and these kids.”
Whether there is a change at Colorado State or in the final two games, Fresno State needed to come out of this season with some direction at quarterback.
But it appears there will be a full competition in the spring and likely fall. Waiting for the winner will be a nonconference schedule that includes trips to Alabama and Washington, which went into the weekend No. 1 and No. 4 in the nation and don’t figure to drop off much next season.
Virgil, freshman James Quentin Davis and walk-on Christian Rossi return and are expected to be joined by JC transfer Cameron Burston and Mark Salazar, who have made oral commitments to Fresno State.
More production from the run game would help, but Virgil could help that by pulling the ball on a handful of those zone reads rather than sending the running back into a play that results in no gain or a loss.
20.6 Points per game for Fresno State, on track for lowest going back through 1990 season.
The Bulldogs also could get more out of the passing game. Minus drops and sloppy routes on the receiving end, Virgil still could be much more accurate with his throws.
Virgil after the loss to Air Force has a completion percentage of 51.4 this season, last among eight qualifying quarterbacks in the Mountain West by a lot (San Jose State quarterback Kenny Potter is seventh at 56.1) and does not even crack the top 100 in the nation. To qualify, a quarterback must have played in 75 percent of his team’s games and have a minimum of 15 attempts per game played.
Where that leaves the Bulldogs now is with one of the more inefficient offenses in the nation. Fresno State is averaging 4.84 yards per play and went into the weekend generating 4.81 ypp and in company it really does not want to keep.
The bottom 10 …
▪ 128 – Rutgers 567 plays, 4.32 ypp
▪ 127 – Kent State 534 plays, 4.57 ypp
▪ 126 – Texas State 512 plays, 4.73 ypp
▪ 125 – Wake Forest 492 plays, 4.73 ypp
▪ 123 – Buffalo 476 plays, 4.76 ypp
▪ 123 – Boston College 466 plays, 4.76 ypp
▪ 122 – Vanderbilt 517 plays, 4.77 ypp
▪ 121 – Fresno State 583 plays, 4.81 ypp
▪ 118 – North Texas 492 plays, 4.92 ypp
▪ 118 – Massachusetts 533, 4.92 ypp
▪ 118 – South Carolina 452, 4.92 ypp
And, of course, with still more questions at a position that going into the season the staff was hoping they had figured out after two rough seasons.
Seen that before – Virgil was off to a good start and the Bulldogs up 14-0 and about to add to their lead when he threw the first of those four interceptions.
KeeSean Johnson had 142 receiving yards against Air Force and Jamire Jordan had 115, becoming the Bulldogs’ first duo to top 100 receiving yards since Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse against Utah State on Dec. 7, 2013.
He had hit 12 of his first 17 passes. But No. 18 was eerily familiar. In an overtime loss to Tulsa, the Bulldogs were driving with a chance to extend a lead when Virgil had a pass picked off in the end zone.
It was the same play call, same receiver, same deflected pass and same result.
“Almost identical,” Kiesau said. “Same everything. It was déjà vu all over again. It was a perfect throw. It literally bounced off his face mask.”
Et cetera – Cornerback Tank Kelly did not play – he was suspended for one game due to a violation of team rules.
▪ Virgil in the fourth quarter completed just 4 of 12 passes for 50 yards with an interception. When the Bulldogs have been winning or losing by seven points or fewer or the score is tied, he has hit 64 of 133 passes (48.1 percent) for 827 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Bulldogs rushed the ball five times for a minus-12 yards in the final quarter.
▪ Fresno State has scored 23 points or fewer five games in a row, seven of nine this season, 14 of its past 21 games and 16 of 23. That kind of streak had not happened with the Bulldogs since 1979, when they scored 23 or fewer in six consecutive games in a 4-7 season starting with 22 points in a win at Montana State and ending with 14 in a loss at Long Beach State.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT COLORADO STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Hughes Stadium (34,400) in Fort Collins
- Records: Bulldogs, 1-8, 0-5 Mountain West; Rams 4-4, 2-2
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)