Fresno State was anything but fluid when trying to throw the football last season, ranking 116th in the nation in completion percentage and 120th in passing efficiency.
But the Bulldogs were more than just a blip on the radar at this week’s Mountain West Media Summit when it came to the top receiving groups in a conference that has headliners but might lack some depth.
You have to give the quarterback a chance to get the ball out of his hand whatever it might be – get the ball in their hands by handing it to them, (in the) quick game …, throwing the ball down the field to them
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
With KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan, they are the only conference team with two returning receivers that had more than 45 catches last season. On top of that, six teams lost their top receiver from a year ago – a list that includes schools that finished first, third, fourth and fifth in passing.
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“Fresno might have one of the top (groups) … Jamire Jordan, KeeSean, and they also had (Aaron) Peck last year,” said San Jose State cornerback Andre Chachere, the former Clovis West standout and a preseason All-Mountain West selection. “We studied extra hard for that one. They have one of the better receiver corps out there.
“They all did really well, the things the coaches asked them to do and you could tell that they were really dialed in every game.”
San Diego State corner Kameron Kelly had Colorado State at the top of the list, a 63-31 loss last season to the Rams still an open wound.
“They came up to our place and completely demolished us,” he said. “We definitely remember that, for sure.”
But Kelly also mentioned the Bulldogs, with a caveat.
Fresno State returns 75.1 percent of its rushing, passing and receiving yards this season, the third highest total in the Mountain West behind Colorado State and UNLV.
“I know they have some real good receivers,” he said. “I just think they need to get their OL right and get the quarterback some time to throw it to him.”
Therein is the issue for Fresno State in getting more out of a group that includes Delvon Hardaway and Da’Mari Scott, who is returning from a redshirt year after catching 24 passes for 364 yards and three TDs in 2015.
“You have to give the quarterback a chance to get the ball out of his hand whatever it might be – get the ball in their hands by handing it to them, (in the) quick game …, throwing the ball down the field to them,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
“If you want to make big plays down the field you have to protect the quarterback and give them a chance to work.”
That didn’t happen with any consistency in going 1-11 in 2016. The Bulldogs were 11th of 12 in the conference in allowing 31 sacks. There were a mess of dead pass attempts on the run or in the pocket, as the quarterbacks just tried to avoid the rush.
“There’s that, and then there’s having confidence in his time,” Tedford said. “Over time, you develop an internal clock. If you get hit enough the internal clock starts shrinking a little bit and it’s, ‘I have to hurry up. I think someone is coming,’ when they’re not.
That was one we studied extra hard for that one. They have one of the better receiver corps out there.
San Jose State cornerback Andre Chachere on the challenged posed a year ago by Bulldogs receivers
“I think that’s going to be the main thing – that the quarterback has confidence in his protection, and that we do enough with variation of protection where he’s changing the launch point and we’re doing certain things to make sure we can keep the quarterback on his feet.”
Do that, and the passing game could take off for quarterbacks Chason Virgil and Jorge Reyna.
Virgil, the third-year sophomore from Mesquite, Texas, was at the top of the depth chart coming out of the spring. But he and Reyna, a junior from Downey by way of West Los Angeles JC, will continue to compete through the first couple of weeks of fall camp.
Johnson, who along with defensive tackle Nate Madsen represented the Bulldogs at the Media Summit, said there will be another element in play this season.
“The 50-50 ball, I feel it’s a big trust thing,” said Johnson, who caught 66 passes for 773 yards and six touchdowns last season and enters this year on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award that goes to the nation’s best receiver. “It’s your quarterback having trust in you and having the faith that you can make that play. Even if he’s in trouble, there may be a play here or there where he can throw it up and know that he can know that you have a chance to make that play for him. It comes with a lot of repetition.
“You have to play with that person a lot and see what they can do. It has been going good and our trust has been developing day by day. I feel like it’s finally here, where they can have faith in me and all of the other receivers, as well.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada