In flight, the aerodynamic properties of a football are evident. Hit the ground, and who knows? It could bounce in just about any direction, which is why Fresno State defensive end Tobenna Okeke had four sacks in a the Bulldogs’ 31-21 victory at Hawaii and ended up credited with only three.
Okeke already had blasted the quarterback plenty midway through the third quarter, and on a first-and-10 from the Hawaii 49-yard line he again blew right by tackle Chris Posa and locked onto quarterback Dru Brown.
As he closed, he stripped the ball from Brown.
It kicked forward, not left or right or backward or at some other angle, and defensive end Robert Stanley pounced on it near midfield – no gain for Hawaii to take it out of the sacks stat line but a better result (fumble recovery) for the Bulldogs.
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“Four sacks would have been fun,” Okeke said, “but I’ll take three.”
The fumble and recovery led to the Bulldogs’ final touchdown, a key score given Hawaii scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to close to 31-21.
Fresno State defensive end Tobenna Okeke had three sacks in the Bulldogs’ victory at Hawaii; the school record is 7.0, set by Ron Cox in a victory over Cal State Fullerton in 1989.
Now the Bulldogs (7-3, 5-1 in the MW) move on to play Saturday at Wyoming where another victory would clinch a West Division championship and a spot in the Dec. 2 Mountain West Conference championship game.
The play of Okeke and the defensive ends have been vital in getting here. In the 4-3 run by defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer the ends are more hybrid linebackers. They play up, not from a 3-point stance. They all can run, are athletic. Several of them, like Okeke, were converted from linebacker with the scheme switch from a 3-4 and they have racked up 16.0 of the Bulldogs’ 25.0 sacks and 30.0 of their 68.0 tackles for loss.
Stanley, who also was a linebacker last season, is tied with Okeke for the team lead with 9.0 tackles for loss.
Okeke, Emeka Ndoh and Stanley are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in sacks with 5.0, 4.0 and 3.0.
“They’re hybrid guys, guys who can line up and play the point and be physical enough to take on the run but fast enough to do some of the things that we’re asking them to do,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
Last season, the defensive end positions accounted for 2.5 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss.
“Coach O’s defense, it’s pretty fun to play in,” Okeke said. “When he first got here, I was watching his teams from Canada and was just like, ‘Wow.’ The plays that they were making and all the turnovers they were getting, I saw the possibilities for us.
“We have a lot of athletes on our team and I knew we could do that.”
Okeke, in particular, has had a breakout season. The senior came into the year with career totals of 5.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.
Tedford credited new defensive line coach Jamar Cain, who came to the Bulldogs from North Dakota State, with helping Okeke grow. Tedford said Okeke’s hustle helps set him apart. “When he gets in space, if he loses a little leverage he has the speed to try to make up for it. He can gives some tackles fits sometimes coming off the edge.
“He’s a main part in what we’re doing on defense. Obviously, last game he had a major impact.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
- Saturday: 11 a.m. PST at War Memorial Stadium (29,181) in Laramie, Wyo.
- Records: Bulldogs 7-3, 5-1 Mountain West; Cowboys 7-3, 5-1
- TV/radio: AT&T, ROOT (AT&T UVerse 757, 1757; DirecTV 684)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Cowboys are led by Firebaugh-product Josh Allen, who has taken some lumps this season without his top wideout, running back and tight end from a year ago and was knocked out of a 28-14 victory over Air Force on Saturday. His status against the Bulldogs is to be determined. … Allen is seventh in the conference in passing efficiency at 123.98. He had completed 56.2 percent of his passes and is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, ninth in the Mountain West. … The Cowboys are leading the conference in scoring defense, allowing 18.1 points per game. At 5-1 in conference play, Wyoming still has a longshot chance to win the Mountain Division, but needs help. Boise State is 6-0 with games remaining against Air Force and at Fresno State and won the head-to-head match up against the Cowboys.