Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford is opening the doors to practice Saturday, giving fans a chance to get a glimpse of the new offense and defense in a live scrimmage.
It will be 70 to 80 plays, and the Bulldogs will work game situations – red zone, goal line, backed up, third downs. It also will be a barometer of how well the schemes have been absorbed by a group that is in a rebound mode after a 1-11 season and has daunting tests coming in the fall with nonconference games at Alabama and Washington in the first three weeks of the season.
The Bulldogs, through their first 10 spring practices, have made progress. The tempo has been good. They have made plays, on both sides of the ball.
There have been six 1-win teams in Mountain West Conference history, including Fresno State last season. The first five averaged 2.4 wins the following season.
But will they be better in 2017?
There will be some clues to help come up with an answer when they take the field at Bulldog Stadium starting at 10:35 a.m.
Here are three things to look for …
Short-yard running game
The offensive line struggled last season when the Bulldogs generated 17.7 points per game and rushing the ball on third-and-short or in the red zone was a concern.
Fresno State ranked last of 12 in the Mountain West Conference in yards per play when running on third-and-short (1 to 3 yards) and 11th running in the red zone (gaining 2.6 and 2.3 yards per play).
It was worse at the goal line. Inside the 10, the Bulldogs ran 30 times for 32 yards – included are 14 plays that went for 1 yard or less.
There were seven touchdown runs, the longest 8 yards by Dejonte O’Neal against Sacramento State, an FCS program.
Many times the Bulldogs were stymied in some poor run-game sequences, one in a 27-22 loss at Nevada when first-and-goal at the Wolf Pack 1 turned into fourth down at the 1. The plays: a rush for minus-1, a rush for 1 and a rush for no gain. The Bulldogs finally scored, but quarterback Chason Virgil had to hit tight end Jared Rice with a short touchdown pass to get into the end zone.
We haven't made any decisions one way or the other with any of them. We have two new ones coming in the fall. But there's no stratification right now.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, on the Bulldogs’ running backs group
Nevada last season was last in the conference in rushing defense, allowing almost 297.6 yards per game.
The offensive line has improved under assistant Ryan Grubb, but in the first scrimmage this spring again had trouble scoring.
To be better, the Bulldogs have to be able to move bodies.
The logjam at running back
The Bulldogs have been working a deep group of running backs, finding reps for redshirt freshmen Saevion Johnson and Deonte Perry, sophomore Josh Hokit and third-year sophomore Bryson Oglesby, as well as walk-ons Treyvon Green and Austin Harper.
Senior Dontel James and junior Dejonte O’Neal are in the mix, but have been limited through the spring while working their way back from injuries.
Fresno State also has two incoming freshmen that will be given a chance to get into the rotation in the fall in Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims.
How and when that shakes out is to be determined.
“We haven’t made any decisions one way or the other with any of them,” Tedford said. “We have two new ones coming in the fall. But there’s no stratification right now.”
We'll have enough offense and defense and everything in. But if you don't take care of the details and the little things then you really have no chance to be successful.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
There could be some coming out of the scrimmage Saturday, but the end of a running play might not be the best clue.
Ball security is paramount. Pass protection, identifying a blitz and then handling that linebacker or safety, is important as is the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
It’s about the tempo
Fresno State quarterbacks last season completed 51.9 percent of their passes. In 2015, it was 50.1 percent. That is just part of the problem.
Virgil, junior college transfer Jorge Reyna and senior Christian Rossi likely will take the majority of the reps with the No. 1 and No. 2 offense and command will be a critical piece to the puzzle.
The Bulldogs’ quarterbacks have not had many opportunities to run the offense with the coaching staff on the sideline, as opposed to being behind plays and fixing things as they go.
In the scrimmage, that will fall to the quarterbacks.
“Are we lined up in the right formation? Are we on or off the ball? Are our splits correct? It’s all the itty-bitty things that I’m going to be looking at,” Tedford said. “When we get into game-planning then I’ll start thinking more, ‘Are we successful on third down or not?’ All of those other things are really what I focus on right now.
“Do the quarterbacks have it all put together that they can do that? Sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t. The procedures of football and what you need to do to be successful is what I’m really focused on. Game-planning will happen when it happens. We’ll have enough offense and defense and everything in. But if you don’t take care of the details and the little things then you really have no chance to be successful.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- Saturday, April 22: Spring practice No. 11: 10:35 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to the public
- Saturday, April 29: Spring Preview, 10:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to the public
- Saturday, Sept. 2: Home/season opener vs. Incarnate Word, kickoff TBD
- Saturday, Sept. 9: Game at Alabama, kickoff TBD
- Saturday, Sept. 30: Mountain West opener vs. Nevada, kickoff TBD