Fresno State has not been better than .500 after five games in a season since 2013, when quarterback Derek Carr and the Bulldogs won their first 10 games.
They can get there on Saturday by winning at San Jose State, which coincidentally is the team that ended the Bulldogs’ run at an undefeated season four years ago.
The Spartans this season are struggling under first-year coach Brent Brennan, just 1-5 and 0-2 in Mountain West play while being outscored by an average of 44.5 to 15.8 every game. They also are a 17-point underdog on their home field to a team that was 1-11 last year. All of that is very telling. Fresno State hasn’t been the favorite against any bowl subdivision team since the end of the 2014 when playing Hawaii.
We are really focused on the process of getting better each week as a defense, whether it’s less missed tackles, less missed assignments, better man to man coverage, better pass rushes, better eyes in the zone if you’re a linebacker.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer
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The Bulldogs, 2-2 and 1-0 in the MW, still have much to prove in this first season under coach Jeff Tedford, but get an opportunity against the Spartans to fix some things that were amiss in a 41-21 victory over Nevada and head into the meatier section of their conference schedule 2-0 in conference play.
Here are four things to watch:
1. Run game, Fun game
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion deftly handled the Bulldogs’ run game early in the victory over Nevada, which is to say he did the prudent thing with a run-pass option given the defensive looks in front of him and checked to quick passes. Fresno State rushed the ball only 12 times in the first half, but hit eight passes to backs that accounted for 71 yards and three first downs.
McMaryion will see different looks and a different challenge from San Jose State and given the Spartans’ thin defensive line, the Bulldogs should have some success running the football.
That part of the offense still is a bit of an unknown so it bears watching, and the Bulldogs will need a more impactful run game the next two weeks at home against New Mexico and at San Diego State.
This is a cushy spot to see if they can blast through some run game issues.
San Jose State ranks last in the conference and 127th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 290.0 yards per game. It also has allowed 20 rushing touchdowns, the most in the MW and tied with Louisiana-Lafayette for the most in the nation.
No surprise then that the Spartans’ opponents have run the ball an average of 57.2 times per game, which also is the most in the nation.
2. A jolt from Jamire
Jamire Jordan got the Bulldogs off to a fast start against the Wolf Pack, returning the opening kickoff 71 yards to set up McMaryion and the offense at the Nevada 29.
But Jordan needs to be more of a factor in the offense than he has to this point.
That opportunity to return a kickoff might have been intended to kick-start the fourth-year junior wide out, who over the past two games has been targeted only four times and has just one reception.
He had 45 catches a year ago for 713 yards (15.8 ypc) and two touchdowns, but has caught just four passes this season and has been losing playing time to sophomore Derrion Grim.
3. The second quarter
If you’re a Fresno State fan, then that might be all of the football that you need to watch.
San Jose State has been outscored by a 111-27 margin in the second quarter.
Fresno State had its issues defensively a year ago when going 1-11, but it didn’t allow 111 points in the first, third or fourth quarters and that’s in 12 games.
San Jose State this season has started two quarterbacks and played as many as four in a game, but against the Bulldogs will go back to Josh Love. The sophomore has completed 52.9 percent of his passes and has a efficiency rating of 100.76, last among qualifying quarterbacks in the Mountain West.
The Spartans’ offense hasn’t helped much, at least in Mountain West play.
In a 61-10 loss to Utah State, San Jose State gained 21 yards on 19 plays in the second quarter and turned over the ball twice leading to scores for the Aggies.
In a 41-13 loss at UNLV, it scored 10 points in the second quarter but it was off the field quickly on two other series and the Spartans were outscored 21-10.
4. Third down … again
The Bulldogs were 1 of 11 against the Wolf Pack, which is ranked 10th in the conference in total defense.
McMaryion with his accuracy throwing the football should have some answers there for the Bulldogs, but to this point it has deserted him when it’s third down and anything.
On first down: 22 of 25 (88.0) for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
On second down: 18 of 24 (75.0) for 200 yards and one touchdown.
On third down: 5 of 13 (38.5) for 70 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Quarterback play is not the only issue on third down, but to stay on the field McMaryion will need to be much sharper operating the Bulldogs’ offense.
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, 1-0 in the MW; Spartans 1-5, 0-2
- 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).