If not for George Helmuth, Fresno State doesn’t make the move with its linebackers that it did before a victory over Nevada to open Mountain West Conference play.
He was the driver, playing a strong second half in a loss at No. 6 Washington. Helmuth recovered a fumble and forced another turnover on a sack, added a tackle for loss.
Fresno State could be playing a weary defense this week at San Jose State. The Spartans have played six games without a bye week and have been on the field for 509 plays, 84.8 per game, the most in the nation.
So, the fourth-year junior, a Clovis North grad, moved into the starting lineup at Will linebacker against the Wolf Pack. That put James Bailey back at the more familiar and comfortable Sam spot and with Jeffrey Allison a fixture in the middle at Mike the Bulldogs ended up with a productive trio that has a lot of potential over the next two months of football.
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“The position they’re in now are well suited for us,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
Helmuth had a career-high 10 tackles in the Bulldogs’ 41-21 victory over Nevada, one more than he had in the first three games this season combined, including another sack.
Bailey had a season-high eight tackles including four solo stops.
Allison, the Bulldogs’ leading tackler, had eight tackles including a piece of a tackle for loss, splitting a takedown of Nevada running back Jaxson Kincaide for a 7-yard loss with defensive tackle Malik Forrester.
The Bulldogs’ linebackers were one, two and tied for two in tackles.
“Great win, first conference game,” Helmuth said. “First of many, so definitely a confidence booster.”
The move worked for the Bulldogs, for Helmuth, and also for Bailey, who had played the Sam linebacker in a 3-4 his first two years in the program. It was like a trip back home, he said.
“I feel like for me it’s a better fit,” Bailey said. “I feel a little more comfortable, can play a little faster and get the reads that I need to make.
I feel I’m more productive at Sam than I was at Will. Just being at Sam, whenever the ball is to my side, ... I take it very personally. I’m like, ‘This is my area. I’m going to fight for it. No matter what happens, I’m going to own the edge.’
Fresno State linebacker James Bailey
“Don’t get me wrong, I did like being in the box and being the Will, but being back at Sam I feel like I can make the reads faster. At Will, I feel like I needed to be perfect when I make my reads, because if I get out of the gap I mess up the run fit for everyone.”
It could come at just the right time for Fresno State, which is ranked third in the MW in total defense and this week matches up against a San Jose State team that is ranked 11th in the conference in total offense and 12th and last in scoring offense.
With better production from Helmuth and Bailey in the starting lineup, the Bulldogs could extend a solid defensive run that started in that third quarter at Washington.
Fresno State gave up a 73-yard touchdown pass on its first defensive series in the second half in that game, but allowed only 15 yards and forced two turnovers on its next three.
The Huskies, at that point, still had their No. 1 line on the field. But Fresno State allowed only 138 yards in the second half at Washington, including the long touchdown pass. It held Nevada to 314 total yards, just 61 on the ground. It also has forced five turnovers in its past three halves of football – the Bulldogs had nine turnovers gained all last season.
“I think we can be pretty productive,” Bailey said. “When we’re out there, we know each other’s assignments so we know we can get lined up fast and get the d-line lined up fast. It just feels comfortable. It feels like the right fit for everyone.”
Bull rush – Freshman Dontae Bull has been with the Bulldogs almost a month now after enrolling in school on Sept. 4. At 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds, he has made an impression.
Bailey is a little more accustomed to playing in space, but it all had to do with George (Helmuth) and his maturation. Seeing how he’s playing allowed us to make that move.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
“We signed him knowing that he is incredibly raw, but he has probably more twitch and athleticism than a lot of 6-7 guys,” offensive line coach Ryan Grubb said.
“I’m just as fired up as when we signed him. I think he’s going to be a really good one. I think with him and (freshman tackle Syrus Tuitele) on the outside, those are a couple of future big-time tackles. When you just see him move a little bit, even just running around throwing the football, messing around, he’s really athletic.”
So much for experience – The Bulldogs play at San Jose State on Saturday and Allison, Helmuth, Bailey and their defense will go up against an offensive line that has accumulated 151 career starts tackle to tackle, the most of any line group in the nation.
Even with that experience the Spartans this season have averaged only 3.21 yards per rush, the lowest mark in the conference and tied for 113th in the nation.
San Jose State also has allowed 12 sacks, 2.0 per game, tied for sixth in the MW.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 4:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, Calif. (30,456)
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2, Spartans 1-5
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Spartans are off to a slow start under first-year coach Brent Brennan, opening the season 1-5 including a Mountain West loss on Saturday night at UNLV. That one victory came against Cal Poly, a championship subdivision program. San Jose State is ranked last in the conference in scoring offense (15.8 ppg) and scoring defense (44.5 ppg).