For the most part, Fresno State did what it was supposed to against Incarnate Word, winning the season-opener 66-0 with plenty of highlights including quarterback Chason Virgil hitting on seven explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards.
But sweep away the confetti and Virgil completed only 55.2 percent of his passes (16 of 29). He made some errant throws, some in easy spots, bringing up again questions about the accuracy and upside of the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback.
That is not lost on Virgil. “I pay attention to it a lot because you want to have a high completion percentage,” he said. “There were things I could have done in that game to make it go even higher, taking some easy completions just in the midst of the game.
It just starts with having good feet and getting yourself into position to execute a good throw. He has the talent to be able to do all that.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer on quarterback Chason Virgil
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“It comes with just repetition, playing, trusting my guys and my technique. As long as I get my technique on point, everything will fall into place.”
The fix could be that simple and Fresno State has a coach in Jeff Tedford and an offensive coordinator in Kalen DeBoer who have inherited and righted quarterbacks in a short period of time.
They weren’t too troubled coming out of that 66-0 blowout.
“There were times his eyes were in a different spot and he tried to throw it late to a certain spot and he overthrew it, but he has made those throws a million times out here,” Tedford said.
“I’m not overly concerned about it. Even the one where he scrambled and missed the guy in the back of the end zone, he has made that throw in practice. It was the first game, get some of that out of the way.”
But the task gets infinitely more difficult on Saturday when the Bulldogs play at No. 1 Alabama, and it’s tough to move forward when there is a unit that has been ranked in the top five in the nation in total defense in eight of the past nine seasons pushing back.
The window to get the football to the Bulldogs’ playmakers outside figures to be very tight, and it’s Virgil who needs to get it there. If he falters, then Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion could get a more meaningful shot than he did last week with fourth-quarter playing time after the Bulldogs already led Incarnate Word 43-0.
In 14 career games, Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil has completed 52.3 percent of his passes (213 of 407) for 2,565 yards with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Virgil’s improvement has been a focus this week. On Wednesday, after the majority of the team was off the field, Virgil and DeBoer were still there working, getting a head start on their Thursday practice.
“I think every guy had those first-game mistakes, plays that they didn’t make that they could have, that they’ve executed in practice over and over again,” DeBoer said. “You get a little ahead of yourself and things happen a little different than what you’re used to seeing from our defense, who we’ve gone against through 29 practices.
“When those throws are there, I think Chason will be the first to admit there were a couple that he definitely could have made to move the chains or score a touchdown. But it just starts with having good feet and getting yourself into position to execute a good throw. He has the talent to be able to do all that, it’s just a matter of finishing.”
Not all of those misses were on the Bulldogs’ quarterback. Sometimes, things will just happen. A receiver strays from his route. Another gets locked up at the line of scrimmage and can’t carry out his assignment, busting a well-designed play and well-timed play call. There is a drop on a well-thrown ball. Sometimes, all three will happen on the same play, which is what happened on a second-quarter pass Saturday. What appeared to be a certain touchdown with ball in flight wasn’t. On the stat sheet it is noted, pass incomplete, dropped pass.
But 55.2 percent is well below average.
They’re all throws I can make.
Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil
Through the first full week of college football there were nine quarterbacks who hit better than 80 percent of their passes, 31 who were at 70 percent or better and 68 who hit on at least 60 percent of their passes; 17 of the 68 are sophomores or freshmen.
The target in the Bulldogs’ offense is 65 percent. In 14 career games, Virgil’s best is 66.7 percent (at Ole Miss in 2015) with a low of 35.6 (UNLV in 2016).
“I just have to settle into the game a little quicker,” Virgil said. “They’re all throws I can make, at the end of the day. I’ve made them out here in practice. So, in a game, it has to come with me just settling down, being comfortable and being confident in my preparation and stepping into those throws and making them.
“We have a good corps of wideouts, so you have to be able to let those guys make plays. They’re a strength of our offense and we have to get them the ball any way we can, whether it’s down the field, short things, we have to try to get those guys the ball and let them make plays. They’re the heroes at the end of the day.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Facing college football’s No. 1 team
FRESNO STATE AT ALABAMA
- Opening kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
- Records: Bulldogs 1-0, Crimson Tide 1-0
- TV: ESPN2
- Season-opening results: Fresno State defeated Incarnate Word 66-0; Alabama beat No. 3 Florida State 24-7
- Head-to-head: Saturday will mark the first meeting between Fresno State and Alabama
- More online: Check out Robert Kuwada’s updates and video at fresnobee.com/bulldogs or download the Bulldog Buzz mobile app