Fresno State had just put San Jose State quarterback Josh Love through a mind-twisting test for four quarters of football, limiting the Spartans to just 205 yards of offense and forcing four turnovers in a fairly stress-free victory, when safety Juju Hughes was asked to take a peek ahead.
Up next: New Mexico, an option team.
What might defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer and the defensive staff have waiting for the Lobos on a Homecoming Saturday at Bulldog Stadium?
Fresno State through five games has allowed an average of 107.2 ruhsing yards and 312.2 total yards per game, ranking second in the Mountain West and 20th in the nation in both categories. Last season, the Bulldogs allowed 247.4 rushing yards and 415.1 total yards per game.
““He has a lot in his bag,” said Hughes, who was put into positions in that victory over the Spartans to make six tackles including two tackles for loss, pick off a pass and force a fumble on a sack. “I’m never doubting him on what he can mix up and make happen.”
But as the Bulldogs were taking apart Nevada and San Jose State to open Mountain West Conference play and making their way up the defensive national rankings, New Mexico was out there looming as the first real test.
The Lobos look different than most teams, running their triple-option offense out of a pistol-type formation, with the quarterback lined up 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s hard to key on a particular player; in five games they have had four different rushing leaders, and they have been progressively more productive the past four games. New Mexico rushed for 176 yards in a loss to New Mexico State, 198 in a loss to Boise State, 338 in a victory at Tulsa and 363 last week in a victory over Air Force.
New Mexico also has something that Nevada and San Jose State didn’t – a senior quarterback. The Lobos’ Lamar Jordan has been in the same system for four years and might be able to better handle the Bulldogs’ defense.
Jordan did not play at Tulsa due to a concussion suffered against Boise State, but rushed the ball 10 times for 68 yards and completed 4 of 9 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Air Force.
“They do a bunch of multiple things,” Steinauer said. “Everybody has to be accounted for on the football field when you’re playing a team like this and it may limit what you can do, only because the assignments are so different on everything.
“But any coordinator in the country is going to say you have to be assignment sound and disciplined against an option like this. It’s a cliché statement, but it’s true. If you start running four people off a side and they go the other way, the result is inevitable. I just think you pick and choose your times to be who you are and what your guy’s quote-unquote normal identity is.”
He has a lot in his bag. I’m never doubting him on what he can mix up and make happen.
Fresno State safety Juju Hughes on defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer
There is a new normal for the Bulldogs, who are ranked second in the Mountain West and 20th in the nation in rushing and total defense, first and 28th in third-down defense.
Those rankings are impacted by a 66-0 rout of Incarnate Word, a championship subdivision program that is 0-5 and been outscored this season by an average of 50.6 to 20.6 playing Sacramento State, Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian and Southeastern Louisiana after making the trek and getting trounced in Fresno.
But against FBS opponents, Fresno State still is third in the conference in rushing and total defense and first in third-down defense. Nationally, it is 47th in rushing defense, 38th in total defense and 49th in third-down defense.
“Obviously, we knew this game was on the schedule,” Steinauer said. “We have coaches that are familiar with the league and the different variations of the option and that sort of thing, and it’s a combined effort. Knowing they’re on the schedule, it’s not like we just took a squint now.
“We’ll see. At the end of the day, we have to make tackles, we have to run and make plays and try to create some turnovers.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEW MEXICO AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 3-2, 2-0 Mountain West; Lobos 3-2, 1-1
- Webcast/radio: AT&T , ROOT (AT&T UVerse 757, 1757; DirecTV, 684)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: New Mexico had a bye week following a 56-38 victory over Air Force, its second win in a row. The Lobos went into the weekend averaging 266.8 rushing yards per game, third in the Mountain West. Running back Richard McQuarley tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in the victory over Air Force and is leading the Lobos’ attack, averaging 5.9 yards per play and 60.2 yards per game.