Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil threw five touchdown passes working with the first-team offense Saturday in a live scrimmage, a strong indicator something might be up here with coach Jeff Tedford and the Bulldogs.
It has been a long time since that unit worked so efficiently and productively, due in large part to operator error somewhere along the line – go past last fall and last spring, the fall before that and the spring before that, the fall before that and the spring before that.
The end results looked good, but getting there is perhaps more instructive. A case in point would be the fourth of those touchdown throws by Virgil, a perfect shot to Delvon Hardaway in the left corner.
On that play the defense brought a corner blitz, testing right tackle David Patterson.
Quarterback Chason Virgil threw five touchdown passes in the Bulldogs’ scrimmage, their second of the spring. Three of the TD throws went to Delvon Hardaway, one to KeeSean Johnson and one to Justin Allen.
But Patterson had his eyes up, diagnosed the play and slid outside to obliterate the blitz. Virgil had a clean pocket, no one around him, and made the throw.
“It was a slot play out, so I have the option to go out to an extra guy if he comes. When I set, I saw the defensive end drop, so my first instinct was to look outside for the next thing coming and I saw him,” Patterson said. “I just kicked out and tried to get a piece of him to give the quarterback a little more time and I got a pretty good chunk.”
Here’s the thing. The Bulldogs saw that blitz for the first time this spring on Friday. They went over their answer to it Saturday morning in the film room, and a just few hours later Patterson was out there executing it perfectly.
“That was awesome eyes,” offensive line coach Ryan Grubb said. “You could see David’s eyes work out to the outside. The safety started to drift over to that receiver and he saw it and picked it up. He communicated with (right guard Micah St. Andrew) to bounce out a gap. It was pretty dang good. Film to executing, I was really happy with that.
“That all happened this morning. We talked about it, he saw it, boom.”
I think (offensive line coach Ryan Grubb) is doing a great job with them. They know what they’re doing and they’re playing hard. If they continue to improve then we have a chance to be pretty good up there.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
That was just one play. The Bulldogs whether rushing the football or throwing it had success, both the ones and the twos. Junior college transfer Jorge Reyna and senior Christian Rossi also had touchdown passes, working with the second unit.
A line that struggled mightily a year ago fueled it, but it is much further along at this point than it was a year ago when there were a lot of pieces in motion and their inexperience played against them. Fresno State had only 24 returning starts on its offensive line last season, tied for seventh fewest in the nation.
The Bulldogs’ No. 1 line this spring would go into the season with 65 combined starts led by center Aaron Mitchell with 24, St. Andrew with 17 and Patterson and left tackle Christian Cronk with 12. Only redshirt freshman Netane Muti at left guard has not started a game, but he has had one of the best springs in the group.
That makes a difference in the way they communicate up front, in the way they execute and in their consistency play to play and game to game.
“A ton,” Patterson said. “It really does, just that one year. It really makes a difference, playing as an individual and knowing the scheme and knowing what everyone around you is doing so you can focus on your part so you can make sure it gets done.”
I think we’re making progress. I like the way we started and my biggest concern at that point was whether we were going to continue to compete at that level or let our guard down. I was excited to see the guys competed not just for the first half of the scrimmage but until the very end. I’m excited about the direction we’re headed.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer
The Bulldogs’ lines, first and second, proved that Saturday in controlling a scrimmage that was scheduled to go 70 to 80 plays and wound up closer to 95.
“One of the things that I tried to talk to the guys a ton about when we first got here was one of the things that makes you a truly good O-line is your ability to communicate and adjust during a game,” Grubb said.
“How fast can you retain and switch information? Go, ‘Oh, yeah, they’re going to bring it from here.’ You make that adjustment on the sideline and do that. Last year at Eastern (Michigan) that was one of the big growing steps that we took as a unit and we were really able to cut down on the number of sacks allowed and be a pretty proficient unit up front and I attribute a lot of that to our communication on the sideline and adjustments and they did it right there today, so … step one.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- 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