Fresno State has questions about its quarterback play and with that it has made plays in the passing game, ranking second in the Mountain West Conference with 274.7 yards per game through the air and fourth with an efficiency rating of 135.98.
The Bulldogs also have 14 explosive pass plays of 20-plus yards, second in the conference and almost half as many as they had all of 2016 when they had only 31.
But the ‘X’ receiver has not yet been the spot. Now into conference play that split end position manned by sophomore Derrion Grim and fourth-year junior Jamire Jordan, two of their more dynamic weapons, could be ready to give the Bulldogs’ passing game an additional jolt.
That ‘X’ receiver is always a big part of what we do and if we’re going to be successful they have to make plays.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer
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“That ‘X’ receiver is always a big part of what we do and if we’re going to be successful they have to make plays,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said.
“We need them all. We need everyone involved. Everyone needs to be a threat and our X’s are as big a threat as any, the way I look at it. They want the ball in their hands, too, and I know as the season goes along they’ll get the ball more and more.”
Three games into the season KeeSean Johnson, who lines up at flanker, is leading the Bulldogs’ receivers with 29 targets and 19 receptions for 226 yards. Da’Mari Scott, who lines up inside, has 18 targets and 14 receptions for 139 yards and one touchdown.
The Bulldogs’ tight ends, Kyle Riddering and Jared Rice, have been targeted 14 times and have eight receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
But the ‘X’ receivers, who see a lot of man-to-man from opposing cornerbacks, have combined for 18 targets and only eight receptions and 111 yards, though they have packed some punch with both catching touchdown passes.
Grim has nine targets and five receptions for 40 yards, Jordan nine and three for 71 yards.
Nevada has allowed 339.5 passing yards per game, ranking 127th of 130 in the nation. The Wolf Pack lost 45-7 last week at Washington State, which puts the ball up an average of 55.8 times per game, most in the nation. But Nevada also has allowed a hefty 8.3 yards per pass in losing at Northwestern, to Toledo and to FCS Idaho State.
In a loss at No. 6 Washington before the Bulldogs’ bye week, they were targeted only three times. Grim produced the only reception, a 3-yard gain, while Jordan had a string of 26 consecutive games with a reception snapped.
Nevada (0-4) on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference opener for both programs could be a start and not just because the Wolf Pack is struggling with their pass defense, allowing opposing quarterbacks to hit on 68.0 percent of their passes, average 8.9 yards per attempt and produce 11 touchdowns through the air.
In all three categories they are among the bottom 15 teams in the nation.
There were some tough matchups for the Bulldogs at No. 1 Alabama and at No. 6 Washington and particularly against the Crimson Tide an emphasis on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly. “We’ve played two of the top defenses in the country statistically,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “They don’t make anything easy on you.”
Consistency within the offense also could play a part, and the Bulldogs are closing a gap there with quarterbacks Chason Virgil and Marcus McMaryion, Grim and Jordan.
We’re starting to get on the same page to where, on certain routes, they’ll know to look back and just know that I’m open because we’ve been practicing it.
Fresno State wideout Derrion Grim
Grim did not go through spring practices, joining the program over the summer. Jordan also missed the spring, following off-season hip surgery.
“We’re starting to get on the same page to where, on certain routes, they’ll know to look back and just know that I’m open because we’ve been practicing it,” Grim said. “We’re starting to get a good timing down. Even if he can’t see me, he’ll know where I’ll be. We’re starting to get that good relationship as well.
“That’s all we’ve been trying to do, get that timing. It actually takes a long time. That’s all I’ve been trying to do with the quarterbacks.”
Put all of those pieces together with what to this point has been solid pass protection – Fresno State has allowed only three sacks – and the Bulldogs coming off a 1-11 season continue to be an intriguing team in a soft conference.
“It’s coming along,” DeBoer said. “KeeSean has been hot here and I think in some of the games we’ve played we’ve gotten rid of (the ball) a little quicker just trying to get it in guys’ hands and Da’Mari was one of the recipients of that.
“But as time goes on, people are going to start trying to take away those two guys and other people are going to have to step up and make plays. I think that’s just how it is. Sometimes it cyclical, sometimes it’s part of what you do. But I feel like in our scheme every guy has target shots where guys are going to get the ball.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEVADA AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-2, Wolf Pack 0-4
- TV/radio: ROOT/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Nevada lost at No. 16 Washington State 45-7 on Saturday and is ranked 10th in the Mountain West in scoring offense (19.8 ppg) and scoring defense (35.8 ppg). One of its losses is to Idaho State, a championship subdivision program.